Will IBM's Lotus Symphony succeed where other Office killers haven't?

Will IBM's Lotus Symphony succeed where other Office killers haven't?

Summary: Do you see IBM's new Microsoft Office alternative, Lotus Symphony, as offering things other ODF suites don't? Will IBM's Office competitor will make more inroads than the existing crowd of ODF productivity products?

TOPICS: IBM, Google, Microsoft, Oracle

IBM's September 18 unveiling of its IBM Lotus Symphony desktop-productivity suite -- yet another Open Document Format (ODF) alternative to Microsoft Office -- got me thinking about when and whether too many choices yield confusion.

IBM Lotus Symphony is another OpenOffice.org variant. It is free and available for immediate download for both Windows and Linux desktops.

IBM's name may give this alternative to Microsoft Office more corporate oomph than the many Office competitors that have come and gone over the years. None of these Microsoft alternatives have managed to make any kind of real dent in Microsoft's 90-plus-percent marketshare in desktop office suites.

But if customers decide they want an ODF-based productivity suite, IBM isn't the only option. Sun is still selling StarOffice. Google is hawking its ODF-based Google Apps Premiere Edition (GAPE) offering -- now with a Google PowerPoint killer.  Google also is offering StarOffice for download as part of its Google Pack. (Instead of charging the $70 per copy that Sun has levied for StarOffice, Google made StarOffice available for free.)

On the plus side, IBM has set itself up nicely in case Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) doesn't make it through the standards gauntlet early next year. For government customers and others who are required to purchase "open-standards-based" software, IBM Lotus Symphony will fit the bill.

Anyone out there see IBM's new Office alternative as offering things other ODF suites don't? Do you think IBM's Office competitor will make more inroads than others -- and if so, why?

Topics: IBM, Google, Microsoft, Oracle


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • The measure of IBM's interest...

    ... will be the amount of money the company decides to spend on marketing. A $100 million budget would indicate one level of interest. Tossing in the product in order to gain a contract would show that IBM is more interested in leveraging code it obtains at little expense.

    The price will be another strong indication. If the product is very inexpensive purchased separately, then IBM is not competing with Office. Large marketing budgets have to produce a significant return.

    My guess is IBM will market this Office competitor with the same level of investment the company provides desktop Linux. Enough to fuel PR, but not a serious campaign.

    Some markets are ceded to Microsoft.
    Anton Philidor
  • RE: Will IBM's Lotus Symphony succeed where other Office killers haven't?

    Am I the only one who remembers the old Lotus Corporation had a product called "Symphony" years ago? It was combo spreadheet/word processor package with some graphics capabilities, all tied together in a neat little package. My, my, how times haven't changed...
  • IBM loyalists will take it

    There are still many corporate customers who are very loyal to IBM big iron, and to their other products. Any penetration will help all OO.org based products as more people get over their fear about MS Office compatibility. Since MS got their hooks into people, that has always been the killer. Everybody wanted to be Windows compatible and Office compatible. Someday, MS will have to become world compatible.
  • Since IBM already owns Lotus Symphony ...

    Since IBM already owns Lotus Symphony they don't have to develop
    it from scratch. They've already expensed the loss for acquiring
    the product. This package succumbed to MicroSoft Office, but a
    comeback as an alternative would be welcome.
    • The "new" Lotus Symphony


      The just-release version of Lotus Symphony is not related to the original Lotus Symphony. IBM simply dusted off the name (much like Ford did with the Taurus--formerly, the Five Hundred) and pasted it onto their flavor of OpenOffice.
      M.R. Kennedy
  • IBM never learns

    They are not a software house and EVERYTIME they try to compete with MS in software they have lsot badly.
    • Shows what you know....

      The *only* time they have lost badly is OS/2 vs. Windows...and that is largely their own fault. They have done quite well with all kinds of other software products, *including other operating systems*. You need to get a clue, No Axe, before speaking out on topics like these.
      • Yes, you are wrong...

        Yeah, Lotus really has the market, NOT.

        In fact in EVERY PC app/os MS kicks the crap outta IBM. Deal with it.
        • ooohhh

          NoAxe - we love you to death man (cauz you
          wrote two Powerpoint books!) - but you
          seem a bit angry.

          How's your social life? Enough friends?

          You're the best man! You just *need* this
          ego boost. We know. We care!
      • Shows what you don't know....

        He's 100% correct, IBM has a long track record of picking losers (partnerships or acquistions) and not being able to market software to anyone but their own victims.
    • Not a software company?

      Approximately 40% of IBM's revenue comes from software.

      IBM makes more MS Windows titles than Microsoft does.

      IBM has more MCSEs than HPaq or Microsoft.

      IBM helped MS develop significant pieces of windows code, particularly around scalability.

      And that is just the Microsoft story.

      Yeah, IBM loses badly at software, to the tune of about $30 billion in revenue a year.
      • IBM lost focus, but not all

        IBM has always sold a lot of hardware and a lot of software in all markets. They were not making a lot of money, though, in some of their business lines and they needed to consolidate. Their PC business was not turning in the kind of profit numbers that some of their other divisions were producing, but it still did generate a lot of business. They sold off their PC line to Lenovo, both to get some cash and to focus on other things. Several of the Lotus products are distant seconds to what Microsoft markets, but they still generate considerable revenue. Not sure how much of that 40% software revenue comes from the Lotus division, but I am sure it justifies continued existence.

        I think to succeed in the long run IBM will need to build up a solid alternative to the Internet Explorer/Outlook/Office combination, but use it only as a migration path to something else. Google seems to have some mind share emerging based on Google Documents, Google Earth, Google Mail, etc. Lotus ought to consider what they are going to do to move into the next generation office and use what they have now as a migration path to it.
  • IBM reusing an old product name is a mistake......

    By reusing an old product name for their version of Open Office, is a mistake. Many potential users are going to decide on the name alone, that this is a re-market of a dead and buried application and avoid it.

    Surely, IBM could have come up with a better name.
    linux for me
    • Absolutely agree....

      Kill the Lotus name. It brings to mind bad associations with Notes.
      • I think that was the point

        A number of large companies still use Notes (unfortunately) and they are hoping that this along with the release of Notes version 8 recently will spur a mass MS exodus to an all IBM solution with Lotus Notes at the center of it all. Though I don't see that happening since even the companies that use Notes need to stay on MS Office to remain compatible with the rest of the business world that uses MS products.
      • Kill Lotus Name??

        I guess those of us who are a little older have better feelings about an older product called Lotus 123. It always did and still does a better job than Excel. So for me GO FOR IT with Lotus!!!!! ;-)

        • Don't kill, do redefine

          Both Lotus and IBM are big names with plenty of recognition. Just look at AT&T. They were bumbling fools and screwed themselves right out of the telephony market, but SBC bought them up and used the name, along with Cingular, to form, once again, a very big and well recognized company, albeit with a completely different product set and a different focus.

          That is what Lotus really needs to do with their software business. They are not small, they are still of a good size and I think they have the revenue and the ability to do it again. They just have to scope the market correctly, identify the kind of products that are needed, do some R&D, involve customers in creative new ideas, then put something exciting together that both brings something new to the table, but also provides a migration path away from what we have today. Do that well and they could recover very well with the recognition of the Lotus and IBM brand names.
    • Possibly

      HOWEVER, Symphony was a real nice product in it's day! Doesn't that hold some weight?
    • What, you think every software buyer is older than the hills like you? <NT>

    • I disagree -- it just needs the right promotion

      Lotus' name never got a bad reputation, it just faded away. There are still plenty of us around who remember when the job ads said "Lotus skills required."

      IF (and it's a BIG if) IBM markets this right, Lotus has the potential to become THE open-source competition to MS Orifice.

      I can see it now: "Free tickets to the Symphony" and "Why buy an office suite, when the sweetest song is FREE!"

      How about a display ad, titled "Listen to the Music":
      On the left is the MS Office logo, and underneath is "Money, money, money . . .MONEY!" and on the right the Lotus Symphony logo, with ". . .and I say to myself, what a wonderful world!"