IBM releases ODF-based Office killer

Official launch: Lotus Symphony suite to challenge Microsoft Office in the enterprise

IBM has officially launched the commercial version of its Lotus Symphony suite of productivity applications, and looks set amount a challenge to Microsoft Office in its enterprise heartland.

IBM's Lotus Symphony has been in beta since September last year, but according to Darren Adams, the Lotus messaging and collaboration business unit leader at IBM, the "Symphony editors" have been available for a couple of months now as part of Lotus Notes 8.01.

However, IBM has now updated these editors (word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation) and has commercially launched version 1.0 of Lotus Symphony suite as a stand-alone entity, that doesn't require Lotus Notes. Notes is currently in use by 46,000 companies worldwide, and there are 140 million user licences issued.

IBM is also offering businesses the ability of purchasing a unlimited helpdesk support contract (known as IBM Elite Support) for Lotus Symphony 1.0. This support contract is available for a flat fee of approximately US$25,000 covering 20,000 desktops (roughly $25 per user).

For businesses that don't feel the need for support, they can still use the software for free.

IBM's move is significant, as it places it in possible conflict with Microsoft Office in the enterprise, and also takes on the likes of Google Apps and collaboratively developed software such as OpenOffice.

"It is about giving customers choice," insists Adams. "The next time that companies are deciding what productivity suite to use, they have the choice to download Symphony and get support."

Lotus Symphony supports the OpenDocument format (ODF). Last month, Microsoft finally announced that it was adding support for ODF and Adobe PDF to its Office productivity suite. Redmond had created its own XML-based file format, OOXML (Office Open XML) for Office 2007, a move which had set into motion a heated rivalry between OOXML and ODF.

Lotus Symphony is based on the Open Office code (version 1.1), and indeed IBM is now part of the OpenOffice foundation, but according to Adams, IBM takes a modular approach to implementing new versions of OpenOffice. "We may update Symphony in parts where it makes sense to do so, and in order to be more agile."

IBM's Lotus Symphony is also currently compatible with Microsoft Office 2003, and support for Office 2007 is expected to begin in the Autumn.

IBM claims the product, available in 24 languages, has been downloaded by almost 1 million people during the beta program. It currently runs on Vista and XP, as well as a number of flavors of Linux, including SuSE and Red Hat.

Adams says that when Lotus Notes 8.5 is released sometime in the fourth quarter, we can expect to see Symphony on the Mac as well as Ubuntu.

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