IBM hopes its second Symphony beta hits an even higher note

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Two months after launching the first beta of Lotus Symphony, its free OpenOffice.org-based desktop office suite, IBM today unveiled the second beta of the suite with a raft of improvements and bug fixes.

Intended to take on Microsoft's entrenched Office applications, IBM released Symphony in September. The software has been downloaded by more than 250,000 registered users, according to IBM. About 88% of the users are running the suite on Microsoft Windows, while about 12% are running it on Linux, the company said. The new version can be downloaded free at the Symphony Web site. There are versions for Windows XP or Vista, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.

Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM's Lotus division, said the new beta fixes "lots of 'gotchas' from Beta 1," as well as some significant performance improvements. Symphony's download site has also been improved, with new blogging capabilities and a gallery where users can download document templates, he said.

"We're treating this as a new distribution medium for us to get new technologies out to our customers," Rhodin said.

Symphony is built on OpenOffice.org's open standards-based office suite, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet program and a presentation application, using Open Document Format. The suite also supports Microsoft Office and Lotus SmartSuite. "Symphony's becoming a key strategic focus as we try to break down a fairly monopolistic distribution regime" by Microsoft, Rhodin said. "I don't think it's any secret that Microsoft has a lion's share of the market."

As part of its Symphony strategy, IBM plans to release new betas of the suite every six to eight weeks, he said, with a Macintosh version planned for release next year as a result of customer requests.

So far, Symphony is only available in English, but Beta 3, which is due by the end of the year, will include support for 23 languages, Rhodin said. "We're pretty serious about this," he said.

Early reviews of the first beta were mixed , but reviewers also said the suite has some good features and a slick interface.

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Todd R. Weiss

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