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September 18, 2007

IBM offers Open Office as a reborn Lotus Symphony

Posted by David Hunter at 12:46 PM ET.

It’s been little known outside the enterprise software market that IBM has been offering variants of open source Open Office desk top software as part of their Lotus Notes email and collaboration package for several years. Today they went a step further in offering them as a free standalone package called Lotus Symphony as IBM’s Ed Brill explains:

IBM is announcing today the release of Lotus Symphony, “a suite of free software tools for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations.” Symphony is available starting today at to all users — business, professional, academic, and yes, consumer.

Symphony includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool. These are the same as the productivity editors included in Lotus Notes 8. They run on Windows and Linux, and support Open Document Formats and Microsoft Office (XP etc) formats, as well as supporting a PDF export capability.

Right now Lotus Symphony is just a beta with only community support offered, but that’s hardly uncommon these days for free offerings and since IBM last week formally joined, they would seem to be in this for the long haul in much they same way they are involved with Linux:

The community today announced that IBM will be joining the community to collaborate on the development of software. IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of Besides working with the community on the free productivity suite’s software, IBM will also leverage technology in its products.

As always with freebies, one wonders about the underlying monetization and a somewhat tangential explanation was forthcoming:

Steve Mills, IBM’s software chief, said that “something we deliver for free won’t be a moneymaker.” But if buyers of corporate computers give Symphony to some employees, it might free up budgets to buy other software from IBM, he said.

I would discount that in favor of a recognition that office software is now rapidly becoming a commodity and giving it away for free drives support services and enhances other offerings. There is also a other consideration – now IBM can speak more directly in the Open Document Format (ODF) versus Microsoft’s OpenXML (OOXML) standards battle to further discomfit Microsoft middleware products that are strongly tied to Microsoft Office:

I.B.M. clearly regards its open-source desktop offerings as a strategic move in the document format battle. “There is nothing that advances a standard like a product that uses it,” said Steven A. Mills, senior vice president of I.B.M.’s software group.

When all is said and done, Lotus Symphony isn’t going to immediately throw a wrench into the gears of Microsoft Office, but Microsoft is going to have to work harder to keep their Office cash cow customers in the barn, a problem they are familiar with in operating systems due to Linux.

Finally, I confess that I am old enough to remember the unfortunate Lotus Symphony of the mid-80′s. As long as IBM was breaking new ground, couldn’t they have chosen a new and more auspicious name?

Filed under Coopetition, IBM, Microsoft, ODF, OOXML, Office,, Standards

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