IBM Rearms Against Microsoft Office - InformationWeek

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IBM Rearms Against Microsoft Office

Could IBM be launching yet another proxy war vs. Microsoft Office? Perhaps. IBM's Lotus Software group is embedding updated spreadsheet, word processing and presentation editors in the upcoming Notes 8 client.

Could IBM be launching yet another proxy war vs. Microsoft Office? Perhaps, although the company is coy about it.

IBM's Lotus Software group is embedding updated spreadsheet, word processing and presentation editors in the upcoming Notes 8 client.

In the words of one IBM executive, these Open Document Format-compliant editors have "way more" functionality than most users need. The editors will let users open, edit and save documents created with different generations of Microsoft Office applications, including Office 2007. They also will support other ODF-compatible applications.

The public beta for the Notes 8 client and Domino 8 is due out next month, with broad availability expected around midyear.

IBM and Microsoft have faced off on the Office front -- and Office format front -- for some time. In December 2005, IBM threw its weight behind the ODF effort and pledged to support the format in its Workplace Managed Client. Now that support -- for updated editors -- is flowing into Notes, the newly anointed "strategic" e-mail client from IBM.

Microsoft is backing its Open XML format, which recently won approval by the Ecma International standards body, over IBM's objection, and is now moving for the International Standards Organization's approval.

IBM executives were careful -- sometimes -- to paint this as a customer choice issue, not an explicit anti-Microsoft move.

"It's not about Outlook vs. Notes or SharePoint vs. this. It's that our portfolio tells a very compelling story about the way people work. Where we differ [from Microsoft] is that with Outlook and SharePoint and Office, Microsoft tells you, 'This is how thou shall work.' For some people, that is a fine choice. For others, maybe not," said Alan Lepofsky, senior manager of strategy and evangelism at IBM's Lotus Software Group.

Three years ago, IBM tried something similar when it bundled earlier versions of the editors with WebSphere Portal. Though the message wasn't public, IBM sales staff often pitched large customers on cost savings associated with using the editors for many of their knowledge workers, rather than buying "expensive" Office upgrades from Microsoft for the whole company.

The idea was that the customer would save enough on Office upgrades to pay for the enterprise portal, insiders said at the time. Large companies therefore could upgrade just their power users to the new Office, while the rank-and-file could stay with older versions or use the editors. It's unclear how well that worked since Microsoft retains a prohibitive market share dominance. Many of those users, however, are assumed to be on old versions of Office.

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