Productivity software

IBM: Forget Office, Join the Symphony Family

IBM last week announced upgrades to and a roadmap for its 15-month-old Lotus Symphony suite of productivity tools, emphasizing it indeed offers an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
The move comes after Microsoft recently said that a court order to remove Office from store shelves next month could leave consumers and businesses "stranded without an alternative set of software."

Microsoft is battling a patent infringement case brought by Toronto-based i4i over XML file formats. The 2007 case resulted in a $290 million judgment against Microsoft and an injunction that bars it from selling Word 2003 and Word 2007 after Oct. 10 unless the offending technology is removed.

"What we are trying to do with Symphony is establish that there is an option in the market and companies don't have to spend the money they spend for productivity suites," says Ed Brill, director of product management for Lotus Software.

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Along with Symphony, Google Docs and OpenOffice are other productivity suite alternatives to Microsoft's Office, which dominates market share and is a revenue gold mine for the company.

"Symphony is not a product that we just threw out there," said Brill. "We have been investing in an on-going basis."

IBM plans to release Symphony 2.0 in 2010, the same timeframe Microsoft plans the next version of Office. Code named Vienna, the Symphony 2.0 software will be based on the most recent version of OpenOffice.

But for now IBM, which offers Symphony as a free download and the default productivity software in Notes/Domino 8, is adding a new set of drag-and-drop widgets that include integration with popular Microsoft backend software such as the SharePoint Server. The software also integrates with Google Gadgets and Lotus's own Sametime and Connections platforms.Part of the widget package is the OrgChart Widget, which integrates with profiles in Lotus Connections so users can be added into meetings that convene online with a single click.

Other widgets include the Learning Widget, which combines local and Web-based information; a Team Workspace Widget that provides access to documents stored in Lotus Quickr or Microsoft SharePoint; the Symphony 2 Wiki Widgets provide conversion of documents for publishing on wikis; the Treasure Box Widget keeps a "favorites list" inside Symphony of frequently used documents, graphics and applications; and the Export Graphic Widget supports export of common formats such as .gif, .jpeg, .png, .bmp.

In addition, the ChartShare Widget provides screen sharing for up to 20 people with support for co-creation and editing of presentations. It also supports integration with Lotus Sametime Unyte Live's meeting capability. The ChartShare Widget also gives presence information on every contributor to the presentation and a link to instant messaging.

The widgets work with Symphony 1.3, which features support for Microsoft Office 2007 file formats such as .docx, xlsx, and .pptx. The .docx format is part of the ongoing i4i patent infringement suit against Microsoft.

Symphony is available for Mac, Windows, Ubuntu Linux, Red Hat Linux and Suse Linux. Symphony is available for free from the IBM Web site.

IBM offers flat-fee support contracts to large corporate users for $26,000 per year.

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