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Review: Open-Source Office Suites Compared

In search of an alternative to Microsoft Office, we test OpenOffice.org, StarOffice from Sun, IBM's Lotus Symphony, KOffice for Linux, and AbiWord.

Lotus Symphony 1.2
IBM Corporation
Lotus Symphony

Also derived from the OpenOffice.org codebase, but to very different ends, IBM Lotus Symphony was recently introduced as a rejuvenation of the Lotus Symphony brand name. It's much less broad than OpenOffice.org itself -- there's only three major applications in the suite -- but there's also been that much more attention paid to each individual app. The whole suite also has a bit more polish and finesse to it, possibly because the range of applications is that much narrower to begin with.




IBM Lotus Symphony has only three major apps, but the whole suite has some polish and finesse.
(click for image gallery)

Symphony's three apps are a pretty good reflection of what most people do with an office suite: write documents, create spreadsheets, and assemble presentations. This doesn't mean other additions to the suite won't follow later on, though, and the suite checks automatically for new components or upgrades to existing ones. Converts from Office 2007 should be warned that OOXML is not supported out of the box, and right now there doesn't appear to be a plugin that supports it.

As with the KOffice suite, the individual apps all run within a tabbed interface. IBM's replaced the default OpenOffice.org icons and tools with a much nicer, more polished set of elements, including a set of dockable side panels for text properties that doesn't show up in the original program. That said, within each program, the feature mix is almost exactly the same as OpenOffice itself.

Sometimes that means features I could live without: the word-completion feature, enabled by default, is one of the first things I turned off.

IBM's clearly intended Symphony to be a starting point and a framework for further development, both in synchrony with OpenOffice and apart from it. One good example of this is the plugins available for Symphony -- they're patterned after the plugin system in OpenOffice.org as well, but the available plugins are entirely different and it doesn't appear that plugins from OpenOffice.org can be used in Symphony or vice versa. There also aren't as many plugins available for Symphony but a few of them look truly useful, such as one that exports presentations to standalone Flash files.

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