IBM's Symphony hitting the wrong notes, say reviewers

Suite not kind to bloggers' computers; bloggers return the favor

Early user reviews of IBM's new Lotus Symphony office software suite are unlikely to be music to IBM's ears.

While testers praised Symphony's slick interface, they also said the software, which is still in beta, has performance and feature-set problems. Users reported that Symphony starts up and runs slowly, requires much larger amounts of memory and hard drive space than OpenOffice (the software on which it is based), and sports fewer features than the free OpenOffice or its $70 sibling, StarOffice from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Blogger Udo Schroeter wrote that while he was "somewhat blown away by the [Symphony] user interface," his overall verdict was that "a new UI skin with no real depth is not enough reason to switch [from OpenOffice]."

"Overall, I don't see this as an Office killer," blogged another tester.

That's not surprising, according to an OpenOffice.org official. John McCreesh says Symphony's shortcomings are less a reflection of its OpenOffice foundation and more a result of its reliance on obsolete OpenOffice source code.

Symphony "runs like a dog and has a pretty amateurish appearance," blogged McCreesh, who is OpenOffice.org's marketing project lead, late last week during the organization's annual developer conference in Barcelona. This "does beg the question as to why a company of IBM's stature should take software well past its sell-by date, and try and pass it off as a new product."

The latest version of OpenOffice, Version 2.3, was released last week. OpenOffice.org plans to release Version 3.0 by next spring or summer, according to a speech (PDF format) given at the Barcelona conference by Louis Suarez-Potts, OpenOffice.org's community manager.

Sun's StarOffice is also based on current OpenOffice 2.x code, which was first released two years ago.

Zigging where MS Office zags or just lagging?

In contrast, Symphony is built on code from OpenOffice 1.1.4, which was released in December 2004. That code has been heavily rewritten since then, said Don Harbison, director of the ODF Initiative for IBM, in an e-mail.

"Symphony is beta and is a work in progress... we are not finished," he acknowledged. But he also said that testers should not simply compare Symphony feature by feature against other office suites.

"IBM has little interest in chasing MS-Office's 'tail-lights'," Harbison wrote. "Lotus Symphony is powerful, simple, and focused. It provides all the tools and functions most businesses require without confusing features not required. ... In other words, no more, no less, than what is needed, as opposed to the alternative, which is wasteful, and unnecessary."

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