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First Impressions of Lotus Symphony01 Oct

Microsoft Office is undeniably the leader of office productivity suites.  It’s a standard throughout all businesses and the need to have it installed on your PCs is almost a given.  But free or open source alternatives are available.  I’d used Open Office before and never really got excited by it.  That might have been my own fault though…I was trying it on a Mac and I’m not a proficient Mac user.  Competent, but not proficient.

Anyway, I don’t think open source alternatives to MS Office will ever be viable until someone puts millions of dollars into refining the software over 3 or 4 major versions.  So when I heard that IBM had released a version of Open Office, I figured I should try it out.  They’ve got the ability to dedicate this type of commitment if they really want to.

Lotus Symphony consists of the basic modules everyone needs – Spreadsheets (i.e., MS Excel), Documents (i.e., MS Word) and Presentations (i.e., MS PowerPoint).

I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the software downloaded and installed.  I don’t have an exact timing, but I seem to recall my last MS Office installation taking over an hour to install.  Of course, that was MS Office 2007 Enterprise which also installed Access, InfoPath, Outlook and Publisher.  In retrospect, I guess I should have expected the trimmed down offering from IBM to install much more quickly.

The interface looks ok.  It’s certainly not familiar like MS Office.  In the end, this may be the one thing that dooms all open office suites.  But I got used to the new MS Office ribbon, and I’m sure I can get used to Symphony’s toolbars.

I’m really going to try to use Symphony over the coming weeks.  I’m going to try to keep an open mind and work with the product as exclusively as I can.  I readily admit that I’ll be fighting my own biases.  For example, I’ve already got a couple gripes:

  • I can’t open the MS Word template that I use for my business correspondence,
  • Spreadsheets doesn’t highlight a copy area,
  • There’s an extra menu layer with only one option when you select File > Open,
  • You can’t connect Spreadsheets to an ODBC data source to pull data into a file from a database.

I’ll let you know what else I find.  I’m pulling for Symphony.  I really am.  I’d love to be able to recommend a free office suite that handles all the basic functions an SMB needs.  We’ll see if Symphony is up to the task.

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