IBM takes on Microsoft with ODF-based Symphony

IBM has launched a commercially supported version of its Lotus Symphony productivity suite, which could prove a challenge to Microsoft Office
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

IBM has launched a commercially supported version of its Lotus Symphony productivity suite, ready to take on Microsoft Office.

The software is free, with unlimited technical support for around $25 (£13) per user, and it supports the ODF document format — which could cast an unflattering light on the confusion around Microsoft Office.

Lotus Symphony, based around the open-source OpenOffice.org, has been available as a free beta download since September 2007, and the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs are already bundled in IBM's Notes products. Symphony 1.0 is now available as a standalone package, running on Windows Vista and XP, as well as on major Linux versions including Suse and Red Hat. Versions for the Mac and Ubuntu are coming later this year.

Symphony downloads will be free, and customers can buy helpdesk support for roughly $25 per-user per-year for 1,000 staff or more, from IBM Elite Support. The software is available in 28 languages.

IBM will be able to claim Symphony has better support for international standards than Microsoft, as it supports the ODF document format, which is the basis of an international standard. However, Microsoft has announced that its Office product will support ODF. Also, Microsoft Office's native OOXML format has been accepted for international standardisation, but the standardised version will not be included in Office until its next version.

Symphony could save a 20,000-employee company around £4m, according to CNN Money. It also includes an open API, to allow third parties to create plug-ins.

Although Microsoft Office remains the leading productivity suite with about 95 percent of the market by revenue, there are around 140 million user licences for Lotus notes and nearly a million users have downloaded the Symphony beta. OpenOffice.org itself has had about 98 million downloads, but its market share has proved impossible to measure so far.

"A growing number of businesses are considering decisions to renew their Office licensing agreements, and move up to Office 2007 and Vista," said an IBM statement. "Lotus Symphony 1.0 provides a timely and cost-effective alternative tested by nearly one million people worldwide and backed by IBM."

IBM also launched a small-business package called Lotus Foundations, which is intended to compete with Microsoft's Small Business Server.

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