Big Blue Crashes Microsoft’s Office Party

A proprietary behemoth like IBM giving away enterprise-rich office applications for free? That was the news from IBM this week, but Big Blue’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic.

IBM is presenting a set of enterprise applications — word processing, spreadsheet, presentation applications — called “Lotus Symphony,” as freely downloadable applications from its Web site.

The Tuesday launch of Lotus Symphony comes one week after IBM’s announcement that it is joining the OpenOffice community.

Open Pledge

IBM said at the time that it is to make code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements. IBM also pledged contributions to the “feature richness” of

The announcement in turn is viewed as a step forward for the open source cadre of developers backing and the Open Document Format (ODF).

“IBM have already announced that they will be contributing code from Lotus into, so it would be logical to expect further use of ‘best of breed’ shared components between both products,” John McCreesh, marketing project lead, said Tuesday from Barcelona, where he is attending the annual conference of

Not lost on developers in the open source community is also the boost that the Symphony campaign will give to the Open Document Format.

ODF Boost

“Every additional application which supports ODF is further proof that ODF is a truly open standard worthy of the name and worthy of its ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accreditation,” McCreesh told LinuxInsider.

Lotus Symphony supports multiple file formats, including Microsoft Office’s Office Open XML and ODF, and can output content in Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF). The ISO recently declined to declare Microsoft’s OOXML format as an international standard, and the company is continuing its effort to have it accepted.

The goal is not only to push ODF forward. Freely downloadable software with business functions could possibly propel Lotus ahead as a contender to Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The latter have become the present-day global mainstays, from cubicles to corner suites.

Emerging Markets

“IBM’s strategy is to go after markets that are currently not deeply penetrated by Microsoft Office,” Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz told LinxInsider. “These include under-served workers and emerging markets.”

While general press coverage is likening the Symphony suite to Microsoft Office, IBM’s press release Tuesday indicates it’s rich in functions.

IBM is touting lotus Symphony’s ability to connect to different data sources easily and present the user with a single view. In one scenario, according to IBM, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and the user’s workspace can be efficiently linked.

What’s in It for IBM?

That Lotus Symphony is free represents marketing goals rather than charity. As such, it’s all about the IBM technology ecosystem. “IBM stands to benefit from offering this new functionality integrated with other offerings like Domino and WebSphere,” Koplowitz said.

“Symphony has the ability to provide deep integration of productivity functionality embedded in a line of business applications,” he said. “IBM has a lot of assets in Domino and WebSphere where they can surface this type of functionality,” he said.

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