When, in 2008, IBM resurrected its Lotus Symphony brand name for a new productivity suite based on OpenOfffice.org, the resulting product was at once forward-looking and stuck in the past. The suite's Eclipse-based interface lent Symphony a new look and a path toward greater extensibility, but the company's choice of OpenOffice.org 1.1.4 (as opposed to the then-current 3.0) as the backbone for the new product meant that Symphony users would have to do without enhancements added to OpenOffice.org in the interim.
Last week, with the release of Lotus Symphony 3.0, IBM harmonized its office suite with the OpenOffice.org 3.0 code base, without doing away with Symphony-specific enhancements added in the interim. For instance, the overhauled interface to the suite's DataPilot tool (analogous to Microsoft Excel's PivotTable) that debuted in last year's Symphony 1.3 is back in version 3.0, as is the format-stripping paste option from OpenOffice.org that I'd missed when I first reviewed the IBM suite. What's more, Lotus Symphony 3.0 offers improved interoperability both with Microsoft Office, in the form of modest VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) macro support in spreadsheets, and with OpenOffice.org, in the form of support for that suite's OpenDocument Format version 1.2.
Now that Symphony and OpenOffice.org are on a more equal footing, it's less clear which of the two suites has the best claim to the title of chief Microsoft Office rival. Symphony's Eclipse-based interface appears to offer better opportunities for extensibility-a quality that could give IBM's product the edge. But given that this suite is now more than two years old and Eclipse has proven itself an extremely fertile development platform, I'm disappointed that more add-ons aren't available for it. With that said, I like the way that Symphony's extensibility story extends beyond add-ons specific to the suite to allow for integrating RSS feeds, Web pages and individual Web forms into the application's sidebar.
For organizations interested in keeping their office suite options open, Lotus Symphony 3.0 is well worth evaluating alongside OpenOffice.org. Like OpenOffice.org, Symphony is available for free download, and supports Windows, Mac OS X and Linux systems. In addition, Symphony should fit particularly well at Lotus Notes and Domino shops, considering that Notes ships with Symphony integrated within it. For now, Notes ships with version 1.3 of Symphony, but IBM will make available an application for updating Notes-integrated versions of Symphony to version 3.0.