IBM launches Lotus Symphony 3 beta; Office alternatives pile up

IBM launches Lotus Symphony 3 beta; Office alternatives pile up

Summary: IBM rolled out the beta of Lotus Symphony 3.0, its free office productivity suite built on the code base.


IBM on Thursday rolled out the beta of Lotus Symphony 3.0, its free office productivity suite built on the code base.

The company launched Lotus Symphony as a free alternative in 2007. From that beta, IBM took Symphony to a general release in 2008. Jeannette Barlow, Symphony's product manager, called the latest release of IBM's free office suite "the most significant investment and enhancement from that original delivery."

Barlow added that Symphony 3.0, which is a jump from the previous Symphony 1.3, reflects customer input from both enterprises and small businesses that participated in the IBM Lotus Foundations appliances.

Among the features in Symphony 3.0:

  • Visual Basic Macros support;
  • ODF 1.2 support improves file interoperability;
  • Embedded audio/video allows users to add media directly to slides, documents and sheets;
  • Autotext;
  • Digital signatures;
  • Redlines support;
  • Usability enhancements.

The big question here is whether any of these upgrades will get folks to try free or alternatives to Microsoft Office. The good news for the market is that between IBM, OpenOffice and Google Apps there's healthy competition for enterprise buyers to segment users. Light users may get a free suite while power Excel jockeys keep Microsoft Office.

Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president of messaging and collaboration at IBM, says the more customers are doing side-by-side implementations of free alternatives and Microsoft Office and cutting licenses where appropriate.

The challenge for alternatives to Office is clear: Break customer inertia. We all know the potential ROI case. Alternatives are largely free vs. paying Microsoft for Office. However, customers generally like Office and have no tolerance for that PowerPoint document that may not be formatted correctly with an alternative.

I plan on giving Symphony a whirl along with Google Docs, Zoho and other alternatives. In reality, I use a little bit of everything today. I'm probably a Google Docs-Office hybrid in practice with the once-in-a-while detour to Zoho.

But I'm stepping up on the evaluation of alternatives. I'm in the market for a laptop and pondering whether I need to get Microsoft Office loaded on it. On paper, it's a simple decision---go elsewhere. But I'm one of those users that will throw a laptop through a window if there's a formatting issue to deal with. I know the interoperability is 99.5 percent there for the most part, but as a user that 0.5 can drive me nuts. I'm also more comfortable with a desktop client or hybrid approach than a pure cloud suite.

I'll report back on my alternatives to Office adventures.

Topics: IBM, Collaboration, Microsoft, Software

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  • Power EXCEL jockey ...

    ... will give VBA macros a 'ride' ;-)

    • Let me know

      How well it handles VBA
      • Incompatible

        I tried a medium complexity spreadhseet using a variety of simple calculations, web interface and the timer function.

        Failed completely with no error messages.

        At first glance it looks like compatibility with existing VBA code will be nightmarish ... but that doesn't mean someone starting up development won't find it useful.
  • The diversity of alternatives just keeps getting better and better

    Linux Folks!
    • Sure... if you like piecemeal solutions...

      If you're focused on business solutions, IBM is Microsoft's only real competition.
      • Whats piecemeal here?

        I'm not seeing the connection...
        • Nothing in IBM's solution...

          It's the open source offerings that piecemeal. Hence why I said IBM is Microsoft's only real competition.
          • But theirs is open source....

            ...and based on Open Office. So again whats
            piecemeal? In fact I think it has less apps in the
            suite than OOo.
  • IBM seems to be the only competitor that gets it...

    All of Microsoft's other "competition" doesn't seem to get that the real power in their solution is the entire thing - Office, SQL, Exchange, Sharepoint, Dynamics, etc... Until they can offer a viable alternative to that suite of business technologies, they'll continue to sit on the sidelines and watch.

    Notice I didn't put Windows in that list... even MS knows that Windows' life is slowly coming to an end, and they're preparing for it extremely well.

    Kudos to IBM for being able to see the big picture and providing us with viable competition and choice.
    • The Empire strikes back?

      It's taken decades for the (formerly) Evil Empire to recover from anti-trust blows. As a matter of fact, IBM is no longer the uncontested largest technology company on the planet, now in a dead heat with HP.

      Reformed from imposing standards on the industry, IBM has long embraced open standards. Is the rehabilitation permanent, or would the temptation to return to old predatory ways be overpowering?

      Anyway, welcome back IBM. All is forgiven. (Not that I speak for RCA, Univac, Honeywell, Control Data, GE, Burroughs or NCR.)
  • RE: IBM launches Lotus Symphony 3 beta; Office alternatives pile up

    Once again, like Linux distros, the issue is intregation with enterprise software. Software that will not work with the enterprise software has no real chance of gaining much headway in the business/education markets. For example, our student enterprise software still only supports Office 2003 for advanced function.

    What we need is some smart soul to create bridging software that truely and fully emulates Microsoft.

    One example, we are paying half of our IT budget for software that makes Moodle, an open source learning platform functionally compatible with our student management software.
    • The school district

      where my son goes to school is going to Open Office. There are about 3,500 kids in the district. I have no yard stick to measure against other districts so I can't say if it is a big or small.

      In a recent newsletter from my township they had their budget and operating expenses. They noted a significant savings by moving from MS OS and MS Suite products. They didn't say what they were moving to except that it is alternative software.

      So at some point MS will not hold the power to wag the tail of the dog. I think the recession has managers really sitting down and crunching numbers. Probably thinking why should I spend $80,000 on (X) amount of seats just to satisfy the clients that are still MS dependent.
    • How does $99 for the whole school sound?

      SoftMaker Software GmbH makes a product that I have found to be far more MS-compatible than OO. For the bonus round, it also runs "portable" from a flash drive.
    • open source SIS

      Have you considered converting to an open source SIS in addition to Moodle? Focus-SIS and openSIS are two examples. Sakai has some capabilities in this area.
    • Flaw is in enterprise software

      And its purchase. Acquiring software that limits or dictates your other decisions is strategically poor and flawed decision-making. Evaluation should take into account the high additional costs associated with products so badly developed that they are incapable of working with a wide variety of other products.
  • MS-DOS 4

    IBM has an extremely well-deserved reputation for buggy software. Remember PC-DOS 4, which Microsoft licensed and sold as MS-DOS 4?
    • What about

      AIX, or OS/2?
      Buggy enough for ya?
      Roc Riz
    • rewriting history?

      MSDOS 4 was a Microsoft product - end of story. IBM had negociated a cross-licensing model that allowed them to sell PC-DOS based on MSDOS code, and as such, PC-DOS 4 was released by IBM one month after MS-DOS 4.

      Still, MS-DOS 4 was an epic fail.

      As for Symphony, most of the code has actually been lifted from 3.x code line: this code is worked on and developed by Sun, Novell, Red Hat, and several others. IBM repackaged it.

      OOo code runs on x86 and x86-64 (in 64-bit), also on Solaris and PPC, and on *NIX OSes, Mac OS X and Windows. It also compiles and some of its modules seem to work on ARM.

      On the other hand, seeing that porting MS Office to the Mac platform required a complete rewrite, I wonder who provides the buggiest software.

      Please note: it took me all of 5 minutes to crash MS Office 2007, making documents being worked on unrecoverable, when it came out. I have yet to accomplish that with OOo (I may crash it, but it will recover).
      Mitch 74
      • How did you crash Office 2007

        Please tell us the steps. I want to try it myself.
      • History

        If memory serves me correctly, OS2 was a true multi-tasking OS. MS can never make that claim without a total re-write of their OS.

        Also, I would say that OOo is far more universal than MS Office, not only based on the number of different platforms it runs on, but on the standard file format, that MS just can't seem to get right.