IBM announces beta of Lotus Symphony

by Volker Weber

IBM announces Lotus Symphony. No, that is not 22 year old news:

Richly-featured productivity tools that are intuitive to use and compatible with your files. Provided at no charge for your home, school or business.

Ed is excited:

I'm excited about this announcement on many levels. First, it shows the strategic nature, based on current and future plans, of IBM's investment in delivering the editors in Notes 8 as well as through other channels. Second, it offers something from the Lotus brand focused on the end-user/consumer. Third, it demonstrates the strength of IBM's commitment behind desktop alternatives (Linux, ODF, etc) to the broader market -- which should help with all distributions of editor tools, today and tomorrow.

All the comments seem to agree that this is "great news". It appears I have to be the one to ask a few questions:

  1. Minimum requirements: 1 GB RAM, 900 MB disk space, four to five times more than for OpenOffice. Is this a move to convince consumers that IBM software is bloated?
  2. Why would you choose Symphony over OpenOffice?
  3. Who creates these last century screenshots and samples?

And before somebody pops an artery because he misses the positive: I like the color. Plus, a tiled window interface is an advantage for users who would be confused by overlapping windows.


Thats a strange news. I repeat you question and I have no answer: Why would someone chose Symphony based on OO 1.x over OpenOffice 2.3?

Alexander Kluge, 2007-09-18

I think the Symphony suite might become interesting, when a lot of partners write Expeditor plugins that leverage the Productivity Tools Java API . And those plugins do also work in the Lotus Notes 8 client.
What I'm missing in the article is the ability to provision the Symphony tools on the client desktops and do version updates with the Expeditor framework.
That might be another benefit, but is maybe too technical for most of the standard users (or they disabled it in this release).

I hope they'll update the OpenOffice backend to 2.2 soon.

Karsten Lehmann, 2007-09-18


Do you know where i can find a documentation of the Productivity Editors Java API. I have searched in google and i have already posted a question on the blog of Niklas Heidloff, but i have not got any answers?

Ralf M Petter, 2007-09-18

For IBM business partners the toolkit is available in the IBM partnerworld.
Here is a posting with further information:

Search result in R8-Forum for Productivity Toolkit API

Don't know if the API can be downloaded elsewhere.

Karsten Lehmann, 2007-09-18


Thank you for your informations, but i have no access to IBM partnerworld because we are an end user company. I have send an ibm to ibm passport advantage management. So we will see if they can help me.

Ralf M Petter, 2007-09-18

Why is it that OpenNTF can't get even a small fraction of the resources that IBM has donated to OpenOffice?

Ed Maloney, 2007-09-18

What's the deal with all the mono spaced courier fonts in the panels and dialogs? Is this so that the expected Typewriter customers will feel comfortable with it? To me it shows how seriously this product is being taken within IBM. Seriously that can't be the default font is it?

I look forward to seeing IBM attempt to win in this market, at one point IBM had 20% share in the Office market, they decided that wasn't enough so they walked away from that to do the next great thing, eSuite.

If they are giving this away free then I doubt they will put many resources behind it to challenge Microsoft. If it's free, what's it a loss leader for? What is the up sell, why will there be continued effort with it?

For this product to have any hope of succeeding, they need to OEM the help out of it, it needs to be on every PC that ships, to do that they need a sales team focused on selling it to OEMs. It needs to be in people's hands before they have to think ooh I need a Word Processor.

IBM also needs to get honest with SmartSuite customers, tell them SmartSuite is dead, tell them they need to rip and replace with a suite that has less functionality or move to Office. The remaining SmartSuite customers were also the ones that were loyal to Lotus, they don't like it when the product they're loyal to dies a slow painful death, so I doubt they'll switch to Lotus Symphony.

Germans should be happy though, Lotus Symphony was most successful in the German market (9 million active users when the first symphony was killed if I remember rightly)

Personally I don't believe this will succeed as IBM is suffering from the same delusion that Microsoft is. Customers (especially the SMB which I believe this application probably appeals to most) are becoming more and more comfortable with SaaS applications, Google Apps for example, Microsoft and IBM seem to have their heads in the sand on that and keep pushing out heavy clients. If IBM had done this with SmartSuite back in 1998 it would have been interesting, now I think it's too late and no one will care in 2-3 months.

Carl Tyler, 2007-09-18

There are plenty of organisations I have worked with that would never consider rolling out a community-supported Open Source app to their thousands of desktops, especially as a user-focused productivity suite.

However, take the same app, wrap it in an IBM package, offer considerable reliability and compatibility testing resources, and those same organisations may well consider it a realistic and viable alternative to a ¢50,000pa Microsoft Office support contract.

Makes sense to me...


Stuart McIntyre, 2007-09-18

-However, take the same app

yeah but its not the same app its a x years old forge of the code.

but you are right alot of people will buy a turd if its got a ibm logo on it.

Flemming Riis, 2007-09-18

@Ed Maloney, that's why I'm working with Bruce and Vince to come up with an advisory board for OpenNTF...with one potential outcome to tighten the ties between IBM and OpenNTF.

@Vowe/Alexander, why does someone choose one Linux distro versus another? Why do customers still install Windows XP when Vista has been out for months?

As you point out, this is a beta release, and with IBM's efforts around accelerating, a roadmap to the OOo 2.x code exists for Symphony as much as for Lotus Notes 8+. In the meantime, these editors are capable as-is, with more to come.

Ed Brill, 2007-09-18

yes - I do imagine customers who would chose Symphony over the OOO or Staroffice. Symphony have the ability of being provisioned from an enterprise update site, and it is free, and it is IBM and it has much better import converters than OOO have. The only but is - it is bloated. Wait for two years and no one will care less.

Gregory Engels, 2007-09-18

The screenshots seem to come from IBM China. At Lotusphere all the (Chinese) members of IBM China had that default font besides the chinese font.
The editors and labels do use a "normal" font (e.g. Arial) when it is available, don't worry - but IBM should recreate the screenshots on a "western computer" to make them look better.

Karsten Lehmann, 2007-09-18

Stuart and Gregory, so we are are looking for people who would take anything from IBM but Notes?

Volker Weber, 2007-09-18

@Ralf the API for the productivity editors (and symphony for that matter) is UNO, you just need to set a few registry keys to turn it on. instructions here

I imagine that the upgrade to OOo 2.x code will happen in the next release, I don't think IBM are expecting this release to go into production (they are calling it a Beta) interestingly they are not calling Notes 8 client with the same editors a Beta any more, but the editors are turned off in the default install.

It will be very interesting to see how this progresses, in some ways it is a loss leader for the Notes 8 client. The key to success of the strategy is to make Symphony a compelling choice for companies who don't want Notes. It doesn't have to be as good as, it doesn't have to be as good as Microsoft Office, selecting it just has to be percieved as a better decision.

Alan Bell, 2007-09-18

@Vowe: yes, for instance such, that have chosen to migrate their Notes environment to Exchange. They are not very happy, but a strategic decision is hard to redo. Besides they might still have a lot of bonds with IBM and glad Lotus Portal, oh sorry, Websphere Portal customers.

Gregory Engels, 2007-09-18

We are looking for Exchange customers who do not want to use Microsoft Office, but would take anything from IBM as long it is free (and beta), even if it is less capable?

Volker Weber, 2007-09-18

There is also a second Java API besides UNO for the Productivity Tools Eclipse Plugin.

Karsten Lehmann, 2007-09-18

@Ed:There is a big difference. There is no need for me to upgrade my XP to Vista. It would not make my work easier or give me better work results. So I stay with XP. But: Anyone who ever tried to open a fully blown PPT with the productivity suite that comes with ND8 knows why you would choose OO 2.x. I gave up very fast and changed to OO 2.x because I had so many compatibility problems - especially with IBM docs and ppts that escape from IBM ;-)

Alexander Kluge, 2007-09-18

@Volker: If you have success and find such a customer i appreciate every tip how to find such customers!

But i think it's hard to explain...
You: Hey Mr. IT Manager, please use this brand new beta product from the company you kicked out as your Groupware vendor
Customer: OK, you are a smart guy, but how about the cool Microsoft Office 2007?
You: Mh, wait: The cool beta product comes free of charge...
Customer: Oh, cool! So i save money! Sounds great! How about word files? Can wee still open all of them?
You: right now most of them, but...
Customer: Stop! Thats bad! How stable is it?
You: Don't know yet!
Customer: aha... Do i need to upgrade my infrastructure?
You: No, it will fit! But, you need to upgrade most of your desktops, because we need much more memory
Customer: What? Are you kidding? Touch all my desktop pc's around the globe will cost more than the price i have to pay for the Office 2007 upgrand AND Rollout!
You: OK, you'r right! but...

Customer: Thanks mr. consultant, thank you very much for your time. Bye bye!

Joerg Hochwald, 2007-09-18

@Joerg: it is silly. Nobody have suggested to run beta software in production environments. As i said, in two years the system requirements would not be shocking anyone anymore. And to add up to my last comment, there are plenty of customers not happy with microsoft, but who would consider notes being "way over the top". You will find such customers in the small business market. But then I am afraid they would not buy much of consultancy anyway... :-)

Gregory Engels, 2007-09-18

So did anyone else get invited to participate in the Mac Notes 8 client Beta or was I the only one? :)

Andy Mell, 2007-09-18

@Gregory: Then strip the term "beta". You will get the same answer :(
Most of my customers are NOT happy with Microsoft Office. But as long as they have to exchange (ups bad word in this case) files with others, that use Microsoft Office, most will stay with Microsoft Office.
Just today i talked to an IT Manager about the future of the office product in there company. They use a very old Office version (like many other companies i know) and after evaluating some other solutions (eg. OpenOffice 2.x) they will go with Microsoft...

And: In 2 years 1GB RAM is normal on a Desktop PC? Maybe, but today many companies, and i mean big companies, still have 256MB or max 512MB RAM.
The small customers have min 512MB or 1GB in the desktops.
How about Server based computing and/or Desktop virtualization? 100 Users per Server? 100GB RAM? Nope! Not today and i think not in to years :)

It's just my humble opinion... still hope that i'm wrong!

Joerg Hochwald, 2007-09-18

Details aside, this is another in a growing range of offerings that support ODF. Anyone is free to choose the one that most closely meets his needs. Each has its own points; for example, Symphony includes the accessibility enhancements and SmartSuite converters that IBM is contributing to as part of the recent announcement. Going forward these capabilities will be available to other OSS offerings, and OO improvements will be made available in Symphony and Notes. This is the way the model works.

I understand the objections to specific points, but it's an overall good development. Having multiple design centers lets people innovate in the software, not the file formats. That's the important and fundamental change in my view.

Arthur Fontaine, 2007-09-18

@Joerg - while IBM's verbage might be there to protect themselves, I use the editors in Notes 8 for 95% of my daily document usage ... documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Sure, there are some features I would like that Office has, but I have had so few issues with document compatability it is a bit scary. I did all of my slides for Collaboration University in Lotus Presentations. I did all my slides for 2 other conferences in there as well ... and saved them out to PPT for being sent.

So, if you have specific documents that do not work, post them in the Notes 8 forum. Otherwise, there are people using this as their primary desktop suite and having zero to few problems with it.

John Head, 2007-09-18

I think you missed the importance of this announcment with your question of "Minimum requirements"

Don't you see that its Eclipse based! Eclipse makes all of the worlds troubles go away! Eclipse is awsome! People that use Eclipse based products are happier! People that use Eclipse based products are smarter! People that use Eclipse based products are healthier! Don't think for yourself, just use Eclipse!

Raising Minimum requirements to bloatware status is such a small price to pay, it's Eclipse based!


Dwight Wilbanks, 2007-09-18

Another nice looking site aboput productivity editors that aired today

Ben Poole, 2007-09-18

Ben is that the new black? :-) Mine is black on black.

Carl Tyler, 2007-09-18

It’s a load of old Flash and iffy HTML, that’s what the new MS Office for Mac teaser site is. Whither Silverlight I ask myself? :-D

Ben Poole, 2007-09-18

I'm the Lotus Offering Manager responsible for Lotus Symphony. I was reviewing some earlier posts and discussion around the system requirements for Lotus Symphony. Your comments peaked my interest as well. I went back to our development team hoping to understand why our requirements seemed out of line with expectations.

It turns out we inadvertently posted the wrong information. So thanks for pointing out they seemed unusual.

The correct information will be updated on the website over the weekend.

The correct information for Windows is :
512MB of RAM
540MB of disk space for the installation
320MB of disk space is the installed size

The correct information for Linux is:
512 MB of RAM
750 MB of disk space for the installation
536 MB of disk space is the installed size

Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

Eric Otchet, 2007-09-20

March 24 2008
Some of you have said that there are companies that use a very old Office version and XL. I just did an upgrade for a multimillion dollar
company that had dos5 on a 200 mb hard drive (in fail mode) for
all their data.

I updated them to Dos 6.22 and win3.11 and a 2 gb hard drive.
they were very happy with how well everything works now.
I told them I would not expect this set up to last long and that
they should think about upgrade to win98 and then xp. When
people have something that works they don't like to change
anything. It was only because the thing had problems that they
decided to get the upgrade. I have used WinXL, WP quattro pro, and
Lotus Approach. I like some things about them all and they all have
things about them I hate. How to decide on what to use depends on what you want to get done. Win XL has a lot of formulas functions but I like the lotus Approach far more for data work. WP quattro pro is what I have used the most and I like the speed format and the auto fit buttons but I find the lotus Approach templates are fast and easy to

Just my point of view.

Owen Prince

Owen Prince, 2008-03-25

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