IBM Feb. 4 said it has upgraded its free Lotus Symphony productivity suite, adding several features that make its word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications work with Microsoft documents.
The entire code for Lotus Symphony 3 has been rebased on the current OpenOffice.org 3 code stream, which has enabled IBM's programmers to add several capabilities, Jeanette Barlow, product manager for IBM Lotus Symphony, told eWEEK.
For example, Lotus Symphony 3 spreadsheet includes support for Microsoft Visual Basic Macros, allowing users to take business applications they create in Excel, Word or PowerPoint and access them in Symphony. Specifically, a user can take a spreadsheet they created in Excel and open it in the Lotus Symphony 3 spreadsheet without losing data modeling attributes from the original app.
The Lotus Symphony 3 documents app supports Open Document Format 1.2, so that users can access Microsoft Word 2007 documents in the Symphony word processing environment.
"Before, you could open a [Microsoft] .docx file, but in Symphony 3 there is now redline support, so we can collaboratively author or mark up a contract that might be in that format," Barlow said. There is also nested tables, multipage view layout and better PDF export options.
Users will also be able to now embed audio and video inside Symphony's presentation slides; previously, users had to embed a link to launch a media player. Now they can put the media right into their slides without redirecting elsewhere. Presentations also now include expanded slide transition options and new custom animations.
More than 12 million users worldwide have adopted Lotus Symphony, which supports more than 28 languages, since IBM first launched it to public beta in September 2007 as a free alternative to Microsoft's successful Office productivity suite.
However, it failed to budge Office's share of 500 million seats. Instead, Symphony has acquired a more potent rival in hosted platforms delivered via the Web, such as Google Docs. This is part of Google Apps, which is used by more than 2 million businesses.
Barlow told eWEEK she and her team are working to build the Web-based version of Symphony under the Project Concord banner. Announced at Lotusphere 2010 and available in IBM's LotusLive Labs later this year, Concord will initially allow Web-based editing for documents and proceed to Web-based spreadsheets and presentations.
"Browser-based solutions are not necessarily the right choice for some use cases," Barlow said. "If you're doing a 10,000 row spreadsheet, you probably don't want those calculations executing in a browser, or a 250-page complex document with indices and footnotes. There are use cases where a rich client is going to be more appropriate."
However, Concord acknowledges there are use cases where a Web model is the right way to go, such as live documents where content may change, or collaboration sessions that are time-sensitive. "All use cases are potentially going to need to coexist."
Barlow said IBM expects to let users create a document in Symphony, upload it to the LotusLive cloud collaboration environment with a single click and enable users to edit and comment on that document through Concord.
Eventually, this capability will be part of IBM's future Project Vulcan collaboration platform, which adds business intelligence and social networking to the LotusLive collaboration environment. See the demo with IBM Lotus CTO Charlie Hill here.