IBM finalizing free Symphony office suite for Macs

Vendor says Macintosh version of desktop applications will exit beta stage this month

Taking aim at the Microsoft Office franchise on the Macintosh, IBM announced Tuesday that its free Lotus Symphony suite of personal productivity applications will come out of beta for the Apple Inc. hardware platform later this month.

Symphony, which was introduced by IBM in September 2007, is already available for Windows and Linux PCs. Now it will compete for Macintosh business with Microsoft's market-leading Office for Mac software as well as fellow upstarts such as Apple's own iWork suite and OpenOffice.org, with which Symphony shares a common technical heritage.

Released in October, OpenOffice.org 3.0 is the first version of the open-source software that can run natively on Mac OS X; prior releases required the use of the X11 Unix windowing environment. Symphony is based on an older version of OpenOffice.org, although the code has been heavily modified.

The Symphony applications can be downloaded free of charge. Users can buy relatively inexpensive support contracts under a program launched last June by IBM, which is making the Mac announcement in conjunction with the annual Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

In addition to the various desktop application offerings, Mac users also can turn to Web-based office suites, such as Google Docs and, if Macworld-related rumors are correct, an upcoming cloud version of iWork.

IBM also released Version 8.5 of its Lotus Notes collaboration software for the Mac. Similar to Notes 8 for Windows and Linux, Notes 8.5 for the Mac sports a revamped user interface that offers simplified access to multiple features at the same time. For instance, from within the Notes interface, end users can see who is online among their contacts in the companion Lotus Sametime instant messaging and voice-over-IP software and then quickly begin SameTime conversations, IBM said.

Notes 8.5 also offers integration to public Web calendars hosted by Google Inc. or Yahoo Inc., according to IBM. And it stores e-mail attachments on Lotus Domino servers, thereby using up to 40% less space than previously. The upgrade works only on Macs that are running Mac OS X 10.5, the latest version of Apple's operating system -- more popularly known as Leopard.

In addition, IBM released a Version 8.5 update for its Web-based iNotes application , which lets Notes users access their e-mail via the iPhone's Safari browser. The vendor launched iNotes in September.

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Eric Lai

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