At a Glance
Three applications make up IBM Lotus Symphony, which was originally launched in 2007: Lotus Symphony Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. A wide variety of plug-ins are also available.
Version 3 of Lotus Symphony was released in October 2010. Based on OpenOffice.org code, the software is free. For a fee, however, IBM also offers a QuickStart solution to help companies evaluate the return on investment and feasibility of using the software enterprisewide, including training and best practices.
Also available separately for a fee is IBM's LotusLive service for cloud-based solutions, collaboration, mobile capabilities, and more.
Hands-on: Though Lotus Symphony is based on OpenOffice, its user interface has a very different feel. One of the biggest differences that jumped out during testing is that you can have different types of files open in the same window, just in different tabs. For example, with most office suites you'd have to toggle between a spreadsheet window and a presentation window if you're working on both at the same time, but Symphony lets you have them side by side, which is nice.
Version 3 includes a good selection of clip art, and we had no trouble opening document, spreadsheet, and presentation files from both OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. Similarly, a word processing file we created in Symphony--complete with bullets and hyperlinks--opened just fine in Office. Symphony's relatively limited set of tools all felt solid, and very similar to those in Office and other competitors. A new chart wizard is especially helpful.
One thing that's a little quirky is that Symphony includes its own browser. So, when you click on a link from within a document or presentation, say, it launches into the Web itself, without going outside the application to your default browser. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it does feel unnecessary.
Symphony is notable for its strong support for standards, including Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2 as well as those of Microsoft Office. Digital signatures are supported, as are Visual Basic macros. The software supports more than 20 languages.
IBM Lotus Symphony is a strong contender for basic desktop use in word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, but the software's relatively limited scope makes it less attractive for users who need a wider range of functionality. And while IBM is reportedly planning a paid, hosted version of Symphony, the current lack of mobile, cloud, and collaborative support makes it less useful for teams that need to collaborate or access files from anywhere.
Note: The vendor recommends installing Lotus Symphony 3 FixPack 1 after installing v3.