IBM Lotus Symphony ? The iPod of Collaboration?

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On the dome of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City this week IBM Lotus made a bold announcement: it was bringing back the name Lotus Symphony, only this time it announced that Symphony would consist of the OpenOffice-based presentation, spreadsheet and document editors currently bundled as part of Lotus Notes 8.  But the big news wasn’t just the return of Symphony, it was IBM Lotus’s announcement that it would make Symphony available for free via download.  IBM Lotus further announced it would establish a support community and join the OpenOffice development product.

This move by IBM is certain to cause enterprises to rethink their plans to migrate to Office 2007.  Why pay for Microsoft Office when Symphony is free? (though IBM Lotus announced that they will offer fee-based support).

From the IBM perspective this move gives them the opportunity to finally gain a foothold among enterprises that are currently locked into Microsoft for collaboration and communications.  The logic appears to be to give away Symphony, hoping enterprises deploy it instead of Microsoft Office, then once they use Symphony, and presumably are happy, they will be more inclined to consider IBM Lotus unified communications and collaboration products including Sametime, Notes, Quickr, and Communicator.  By giving away Symphony, I suspect IBM is hoping to build a “halo” effect for its UC&C products much in the same way the success of the iPod has led to a huge increase in sales of Apple computers (perhaps it’s no coincidence that IBM Lotus demoed Notes 8 running in native mode on OS X as part of the New York Collaboration Summit?)

It remains to be seen if enterprises will take advantage of the chance to replace Microsoft Office with a free alternative backed by a major software vendor.  Many enterprises have built a lot of processes around applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel.  Moving highly customized spreadsheets or document templates to another platform could entail so much effort that migration is difficult or impossible to justify.  But for non-power users, the opportunity to save several hundred dollars per desktop is certainly attractive.

The one certainty is that the competition between IBM Lotus and Microsoft continues to heat up as each vendor rapidly builds out not only their vision for unified communications and collaboration, but also their products to bring the power of social computing to the enterprise.  In the end, competition is good for users.  Now, it may save them money.

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