Symphony 3.0 beta signals IBM attack on Office

Lotus starting three-pronged attack on Microsoft

IBM/Lotus took another stab at Microsoft Office, releasing a beta 2 version of Symphony 3.0, its free suite of productivity applications.

Released Thursday, the beta is the first version of Symphony that is based on OpenOffice 3.x. Users have been asking the company to make Symphony's features more competitive with Microsoft Office, the dominant productivity suite among corporate users.

Lotus claims more than 12 million users of Symphony, which is available in 28 languages.

No alternative to Microsoft Office? IBM begs to differ

"The OpenOffice 3 code means we pick up a lot of improvements both from the ODF file format as well as the core code base," says Jeanette Barlow, manager of Lotus Symphony. She says it is the most significant step forward since the first Symphony beta was released in 2007.

IBM/Lotus, along with many others, is trying to provide alternatives to Microsoft Office, which has dominated for years. With companies segmenting their user base and assessing needs, many are looking at less expensive alternatives to Office.

One corporate hook in Symphony 3.0 is support of VB Marcos, which lets users run on Symphony customized applications built on Microsoft Office software.

Also new is support for ODF 1.2, which enhances existing Symphony access features for Word 2007, and audio/visual features that let users add content directly to slides and documents. Lotus also has added digital signature support, editing features, graphic objects rendering, richer Java and LotusScript APIs, and an add-on installer for Notes.

It also continues support for the .docx format that was at the heart of the i4i patent infringement suit against Microsoft.

Symphony 3.0 represents the first push from Lotus to update its Symphony tools, and the company plans to follow with two more releases in the coming 12 to 14 months.

IBM/Lotus plans to follow-up Vienna with a "feature enablement and maintenance" update code-named Amsterdam by the end of September. The release will further refine VBA macros and Office 2007 support and include document filters for the HTML file format. The release also will include enhancements to APIs for presentation and documents, templates for business content, and central management tweaks centered on preference, policy and deployment.

In the first half of 2011, IBM/Lotus will again update the Symphony suite with more VB macro enhancements, improve links to other Lotus software such as Foundations and Connections, and add more API enhancements.

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