IBM ups ante with free office software

Big Blue has line of free software applications for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations

In a new challenge to Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite ' and an apparent attempt to open a new front in the open-document debate ' IBM has introduced a suite of free software applications for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The suite of enterprise office-productivity tools, named IBM Lotus Symphony, will support Windows and Linux desktop PCs and, according to IBM, can handle a majority of office-productivity tasks that workers typically perform.

Lotus Symphony makes use of many of the same tools incorporated in IBM's collaboration products. It supports multiple file formats, including Microsoft Office and Open Document Format (ODF), and also can output content in PDF format. The package can be downloaded free at www.ibm.com/software/lotus/symphony. IBM also will give away the Symphony software to customers who buy the latest version of its Notes collaboration software, which costs $145 per user.

Analysts suggest IBM's latest move is aimed primarily at boosting visibility of its Notes software, which provides an e-mail and instant-messaging alternative to Microsoft Outlook. But with growing momentum worldwide in support of open interoperable software standards, Symphony also represents IBM's latest efforts in gaining attention for products that utilize the ODF standard. That standard is competing with Microsoft's Office Open XML as the standard format for saving documents that can be opened by many other applications.

IBM announced this month it would join OpenOffice.org, which offers software alternatives to Microsoft Office that can be downloaded at no charge. Symphony won't be available at that site, according to IBM. However, officials said it would offer Open Office code developed by IBM engineers that makes it easier to use by people with limited vision.

Although consumers may find the price of Lotus Symphony hard to resist, enterprise users ' especially in government, where security issues remain a long-standing concern ' aren't expected to abandon Microsoft's tools anytime soon. Microsoft reported it sold more than 71 million licenses of its latest version of Office in the fiscal year ended June 30.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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