IBM Releases Lotus Symphony V1.1 as Users Begin Considering the Linux Desktop

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Development teams continue to enhance Symphony as IBM bundles it with Lotus Notes and Sametime in a move to edge Microsoft off the desktop.


IBM Lotus released V1.1 of Symphony last week, a release that runs significantly faster than the earlier V1.0 and features mail-merge functions using .nsf files.


Users had been waiting for some time for the ability to do a direct mail merge between a document and their Notes Contacts address book or other Notes database file without going through a time-consuming file conversion. This will further enhance the value of Symphony for Notes users, many of whom still switch back and forth between Notes and Microsoft Office (including this reporter). Others simply forego the Notes Contacts (Personal Name and Address Book in 7.X) altogether in favor of Microsoft Outlook.  


Other new features in Symphony 1.1 include new file-type icons (color differentiation between documents and spreadsheets, etc.), enhanced macro security options and macro event functionality from the user interface, and fixes on numerous bugs and usability features, such as conflicts between certain heading sizes. The Developers Guide was refined and expanded to include new chapters describing new sample plug-ins, and the table of contents for document preparation was reorganized in the online help resource. Lotus Symphony may be downloaded for free here.


The latest release has version support for Windows XP and Vista, SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, and RedHat Enterprise Linux 5. The next release of Symphony,V1.2, anticipated out by the end of October, will offer beta support of Ubuntu, another Linux implementation that is becoming increasingly popular and is now commercially maintained by Canonical. A Mac OS X version of Symphony is reported to be under development.


Symphony, of course, uses the Open Document Format (ODF) standard, but it allows saving files in MS Office 2000 format as well, with the characteristic warning notice about formatting possibly being altered. Interestingly, MS Office now includes support for ODF in deference to Symphony and Open


The world of desktop applications is changing, and while Zoho and Google expand their offerings of online SaaS solutions, IBM is slowly but steadily moving ahead with plans to capture a chunk of market share from Microsoft. IBM's announcement in mid-August that it is offering solution providers a Lotus Notes/Symphony/Sametime desktop productivity package that will run on the three commercial versions of Linux--RedHat, SUSE/Novel, and Ubuntu/Canonical--is a stake in the sand that announces IBM's intentions to penetrate the SMB market with a desktop alternative to Microsoft Windows and Office at significantly lower cost. IBM already has been getting good response to the package in both established and developing markets, according to the company. Sales in Russia, through VDEL of Austria, and in the UK, through Avnet UK, have been good to cost-conscious government agencies. Arrow offers the package to resellers in the U.S. Users in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia have begun passing on Microsoft and giving a thumbs up to IBM Lotus solutions running on Linux. Why? The IBM solutions are 30-50 percent less expensive, and companies are having second thoughts about upgrading to Vista and Office 2007 and may wish to move to an open, rather than proprietary, format.


Part of what IBM calls its Open Collaboration Client Solution (OCCS), the Linux-based desktop also provides business partners with an opportunity to add value to the offering by rebranding it and including industry- or organization-specific solutions. VDEL bundled IBM Tivoli desktop management and security solutions with what it called OpenReferent and sold it to Eastern Europe government and institutional buyers, and some value-added distributors are packaging the offering with required IT services.


IBM is encouraging companies considering switching to Linux on the desktop to begin a pilot program to evaluate the benefits and potential challenges. There are a number of integration issues to consider as outlined in its overview of OCCS as most companies will still want to run certain Windows applications, either in emulation mode or through virtualization. At the above-listed site, where users can share IBM's lessons learned from other customer implementations, they can begin to evaluate whether reducing costs through introducing Linux desktops is a choice that is feasible in their individual environments.