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What To Do If Your Competitor Has 95% of the Market

If you are in the enterprise software business and your competition has a major product that not only has 95% of the market but is so standard that many think no work can be done without it, what would you do?  If you are IBM and the competitive product is Microsoft Office (which is second only to the Microsoft Windows operating system as a profit maker for the company), you would create a free, open-source suite of applications backed by IBM.  In a move reminiscent of IBM's support of Linux, which it began to support in 2000 and which now competes with Microsoft's Windows server software in the enterprise market, IBM introduced IBM Lotus Symphony, a word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation suite.  IBM executives encourage this comparison, which is likely to cause some companies to rethink their plans for deploying Microsoft Office 2007.

IBM has tried to compete with Microsoft before, most notably with its OS/2 operating system and the Lotus SmartSuite office suite.  This week's introduction was different even though some observers (myself included) had a sense of déjà vu given Lotus' 1985 launch of a similar product with the Symphony name. (Lotus Symphony, an MS-DOS-based integrated suite that combined word processing, spreadsheet, business graphics, data management, and communications capabilities.  Lotus Jazz was its Apple Macintosh sibling.)Free office productivity software is nothing new.  Indeed, Lotus Symphony is based on open-source software developed by a consortium known as, whose code goes back to Star Division, a German company that was giving away Star Office, which included a word processor, database application, drawing software, an e-mail client, and a spreadsheet, available in seven languages and for the Windows, Macintosh, OS/2, Linux, and Sun Solaris operating system.

Sun Microsystems, which purchased Star Division in 1999, and Google, already offer free desktop productivity tools based on OpenOffice.  

Lotus Symphony, ca. 2007, is not just for processing words and crunching numbers.  The new offering supports OpenDocument Format, or ODF, which is based on XML, a protocol that enables information exchange between computers.  Using ODF, Basex could publish reports that update automatically by being linked to databases that we would keep current.

Microsoft also supports XML, but via its own document format, Office Open XML.  Regular readers will recall that, earlier this month, Microsoft's bid to have Open Office XML ratified as a standard by ISO failed.  The OpenDocument Format , the one backed by IBM, Google, Sun, among others, was approved by the ISO in 2006.

Let the music begin.

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