Free and freer: Lotus Symphony could be your unsung hero

Free and freer: Lotus Symphony could be your unsung hero

Summary: Everyone knows that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or is it?


Everyone knows that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or is it? With its free productivity tools suite Symphony, IBM/Lotus is looking to shake things up a bit, putting even greater pressure on Microsoft's Office margin and besting Google and Zoho as the lowest-cost alternative.   So far, enterprise customers have been reluctant to move away from Office due to concerns about supporting a new or multiple environments, document formats, user acceptance, and proof of savings after change management costs are figured in. But with the lure of free or much lower-cost alternatives available, CIOs are reexamining these investments in a suddenly interesting market given the economic climate. With its Open Office-based Symphony, Lotus provides a robust tool set that is enterprise-ready. To make the point, 40,000 of IBM's information workers recently made the jump off Office onto Symphony 1.2, and all of the conference materials for last week's Lotusphere09 event were produced using the tools. It all worked and looked great. But these workers were already on Notes, and what works for IBM doesn't necessarily work for the masses.   Lotus' biggest challenge now may be its image and marketing. Other than the loyal Lotus aficionados who turned out en force at the brand's premier customer event in Orlando -- the roughly 4,000 in attendance was up 2% from last year -- most IT folks are not up to speed with Lotus' latest offerings to ease internal and external collaboration like, which was announced last week. Symphony fits into IBM ECM and the Lotus collaboration strategy nicely by providing the classic tools for creating, sharing, and storing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations along with some nifty innovations. But if you're not an IBM Notes shop -- and according to Forrester data, the overwhelming majority of enterprises are on Exchange -- you might not know about it.   The other tack, which has found traction for Google, is to work on the consumer market. IBM has never courted the consumer market well, or necessarily even tried. But when you have a product as good as Symphony is today, gaining mindshare in the consumer market creates awareness from the bottom up. Google Docs is a popular choice for many students not just because it's free, but because it meets their needs and has a great affinity with Google Mail and Calendar. When clients ask us about alternatives to Office, Google is the first one they mention. But in many cases, Google's limited functionality isn't viable enterprise wide. Until IBM puts some money into marketing Symphony -- to consumers as well as enterprises, it will struggle to break into non-Lotus shops. And that's too bad, because for those really looking to reduce Microsoft licensing costs without trading off functionality, Symphony sounds pretty good.

Topics: Collaboration, CXO, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Software, IT Employment

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  • What is Lotus Thinking?

    The awkward Lotus Symphony is no improvement over other word processors or spreadsheet programs. In fact, its word processor is several steps backwards from the incredibly easy-to-use and productive Lotus Word Pro which, frankly, I still use despite the improvements in Word 2007. Word Pro is just so easy to use thanks to its InfoBox in which you can make all formating changes to text, frames, and pages -- as well as to all text, frame, and page styles. It is an incredible productivity feature that stands heads and shoulders above every other word processing application. Why Lotus would abandon it for the dreck interface in Symphony is beyond me. What were they thinking?
    • You are right about WordPro

      I, too, have found that WordPro is the most productive word processor out there. Not only is the InfoBox handy, all changes mare are reflected in the document immediately. It's document model is understandable, and when you make a change to a piece of text, all of the text in the document with that style doesn't change like Word. Numbering works properly and doesn't randomly decide to restart like often happens in Word. In fact after doing many large scale projects with Word, I have concluded it is unsuitable for anything but what most people use it for: memos, and short documents.

      I still use WordPro for many things. It's major weakness is it doesn't support Unicode.

      I wish IBM/Lotus would update WordPro or even better, open source it.
  • Symphony - IBM should be able to make it sing

    Ha, I used Symphony 20 years ago as a database to run a collections department. That was back before Microsoft plagiarized every one else's software, and (nearly) gave it away. Go for it IBM, we need the competition!
  • RE: Free and freer: Lotus Symphony could be your unsung hero

    The interface is amazing, close to the MS Office 07, and so far, not a price tag on it.
  • RE: Free and freer: Lotus Symphony could be your unsung hero

    We're a Notes shop and we're probably going to Symphony this year. We're putting the infrastructure in place now. Office 2007 is a non-starter for us.
    Georgia Madman
  • uing Lotus Sphere attendance can be misleading.

    Lotus Sphere has traditionally limited attendance to about 4,000 people to keep the event smaller. The thinking is any bigger, and everything gets lost in the shuffle.

    I don't know if they did that this year, but that is what they normally do.
  • All garbage...

    Let me be the first to say it: as an all powerful CIO and corporate guru, I DENOUNCE and DEPLORE these attempts to intrude on Microsoft's turf. Microsoft owns the desktop and the office suites that allow us to collaborate, communicate, and live. Where would this country be without corporate scions like myself leading high profile charges with SharePoint and PowerPoint?
    Mike Cox
    • Glad to have you back!

      I was wondering where you've been, Mike.

      Lotus Symphony pwns, btw. It is quite handy to have a tabbed interface for all the applications. Actually, it may work well for IBM to work out a deal with netbook manufacturers to be bundled with netbooks that can only support 3 apps at a time. Having a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation app, and web browser all open in the same window, running as a single process, would give them an extremely strategic advantage with the proposed 3-app limit.

    • Where indeed

      When I look around the general economy today, I have a pretty good idea of the answer to your question.
  • RE: Free and freer: Lotus Symphony could be your unsung hero

    We've stopped using MS Office or MS anything years ago. We've been using SmartSuite Millennium (SSM) and will be going to Symphony later this year. We've benefited from extreme cost savings on both our productivity applications as well as our collaboration/communication tools. We've had the benefit of corporate IM/web conferencing, etc. as well as applications that are custom and scalable.

    Keep MS Office if that's your shop - homogeneous. But if you have a heterogeneous shop than SSM or the new Symphony is a far better, supportable, scalable, security and less costly choice.
  • Symphony nostalgia

    For a moment I thought you were taking a step back in time to the original, DOS based, Lotus Symphony. What What a piece of software that was. It had the knock that it was hard to use. It was hard to learn (at least for me) but, once I learned it, very easy to use. I could make it do a tap dance. Long into the Windows era I kept a DOS boot diskette (remember those) so I could use Symphony.

    Part of the nostalgia is for the time when I had to be a computer jock because I worked in a small shop and I was the guy even though my job had nothing to do with that. Oh well.
  • Look in the Archives

    IBM has some really good stuff ostensibly lost in the archives. Many still wish for the OS/2 window manager in Linux. WordPro has/will be mentioned often. Lotus 123 was the "killer app" that put desktops on the general public market.Sigh - I still miss that number pad driven menu. But at last report, they had "co-operated" with so many others that they are no longer certain whose IP is whose.
  • OpenOffice is Free... Always!!!

    IBM's #1 reason... Free to Try Now!!!

    "Now" is the key word...

    What's it cost later...