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Sunday, December 11, 2011

A look at IBM Lotus Symphony

Version 3.0

IBM Lotus Symphony is a free Office Suite available on Windows, Mac and Linux. The project began in 2007 and is basically a modified version of Though active, it still uses Openoffice 3.0 as its base. The developers seem to be focusing on stability and have released 3 "fix-packs" for Symphony 3.0 last year instead of newer versions. After the Libreoffice/Openoffice split, Symphony will continue to be based on the "official" version of Openoffice maintained by Apache.

I. Downloading Lotus:
Lotus can be downloaded from the IBM Lotus Symphony website. For Ubuntu I had to download a 277 MB .deb installation file as well as a 44 MB “fix-pack”.

II. User Interface:

The first thing that you will notice about the user interface is that the toolbar has been positioned to the right. This makes sense as today's computers have widescreen displays. Symphony will automatically change the editing options that it displays depending on what type of content you are editing. For example, in the below screenshot, I'm editing text and so Symphony shows you the text editing tools.but as soon as I select an image, the toolbar automatically shows me image editing options.

Symphony also had a tabbed interface, which I thought was a great idea. The downside to this is that it is rather limited and won't allow you to open new windows. This feature would have been much more complete if it's implementation was similar to that of a web browser's.

III. Performance:
IBM Lotus Symphony took a little longer to launch than Libreoffice. The interface was just a little more sluggish than Libreoffice. It didn't crash on me once during the 5 hours that I tested it. It's reliable, a little sluggish but not overly so.

IV. Presentation tools:
This is where Symphony really shines and provides some actual benefits of using it over Libreoffice. I personally believe that the best presentations do not use templates but rather utilize whitespace and convey their ideas through diagrams. However, sometimes you might rather want to just finish your job quickly using templates and bullet points. The templates included along with Symphony are much more impressive than the ones included with Libreoffice.

Also, there are no options to insert shapes or objects. Instead you get something similar to Microsoft's Smart Art, only not as smart.

To insert objects, you have to go do Clip Art. Under Text Shapes and Diagrams, you would find the shapes that are commonly used. The other Clip art images are actually useful as well as they consist of often used symbols. You might find yourself liking these images better than the objects that come along with Libreoffice.

There is also a downside to this as these objects are basically treated as images. If you want to insert text, you would either insert text over the entire object or have to manually add text boxes yourself.

There was also no option of inserting text boxes under writer, making a lot of the diagrams not useful while using Writer. Also, copying and pasting objects from a presentation to a writer document didn't work in my case.

V. Compatibility
I remember very clearly seeing options to export to Microsoft 2007 format in version 1 but they have been curiously taken away, though you can save as a .odt or a .doc file. For better compatibility with Microsoft Office, I would recommend using Libreoffice instead.

VI. Web Browser

Symphony also has its very own web browser. That's right, a WEB BROWSER. I initially thought that it may be just based on Webkit or Gecko but I turned out to be wrong as the browser could not be identified by various sites. I think that the main reason that it was there in the first place was to download extra templates and plugins that are available online. The idea is pretty cool and its coolness makes up for its redundancy.

VII. Conclusion
Overall, IBM Lotus Symphony has some really interesting ideas that need better execution. If executed properly, IBM could use its muscle to promote the Open Document Format, which would benefit Libreoffice/Openoffice and as an extension Open Source Software.

[1] Download IBM Lotus Symphony

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