IBMs free Symphony desktop software has a good chance of becoming a hosted service that would challenge Google Apps, according to an IBM official.
The suite, which let users create documents, spreadsheets and presentations, would eventually include live collaborative editing and online shared storage in the cloud, similar to the way Google positions its suite, Doug Heinzman, director of strategy for IBM collaboration, said in an interview Nov. 9.
The proposition is an indication of how serious traditional vendors view SAAS (software as a service), which Google and Amazon like to call cloud computing, that lets people consume software that is supported by the vendors servers.
Read more here about Google Apps.
"The Symphony client will become very much a front end to a number of online services," said Heinzman, who spoke with eWEEK in the course of discussing Symphony beta 2.
The result will be a downloaded/hosted hybrid that will blur the definition of what online Google applications and Microsoft desktop applications are, he said.
For now, Heinzman said IBM isnt competing with Google Apps with Symphony because the company is not making money from it. Instead, Symphony, a core piece of IBMs Lotus collaboration software, is building volume. To date, some 250,000 users have downloaded the software on Microsoft (88 percent) and Linux (12 percent).
While IBM officials dislike the direct comparison, Heinzmans talk of cloud computing is another reason why it is hard not to compare Lotus Symphony desktop software, which users must currently download, to Googles Apps suite.
Both are free and both let users create documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
To put some distance between Symphony and Apps, Symphony beta 2 has been treated to the software developers version of steroids and is 50 percent faster, thanks to a streamlining of the code.
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IBMs software engineers reworked areas in the code that were not optimized and tuned for performance to accelerate application performance—such as opening existing presentations—by 50 percent, Heinzman said.
Also, after some users reported installation problems in beta 1, IBM cut out the chunkiness of the Symphony download process by offering one-click installation for word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Moreover, when users click on "help" within the Symphony editors, they are now given a new menu choice that allows them to connect directly to the Symphony Web page via a browser to seek support.
IBM is also opening up its licensing scheme to allow third parties to offer Symphony online or physically to their constituents without requiring special agreements.
Finally, Symphony will be released in 23 languages in the first quarter of 2008.
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