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First Look: Lotus Symphony 1.2 Mac OS X beta

updated 05:35 pm EST, Fri November 7, 2008

Lotus Symphony 1.2 beta

For the longest time, the only real office suite for the Mac was Microsoft Office. While not a bad office suite, many people dislike the high retail price (although the home edition is far lower at $149 compared to $399 for the retail version). In addition, other Mac users simply object to using any product created by Microsoft. Apple's iWork is a less expensive option at $79 while the latest OpenOffice 3.0 is completely free. For yet another choice, take a look at IBM's Lotus Symphony 1.2 beta for the Mac.

Based on OpenOffice 3.0, IBM's free office suite also runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. While the Mac OS X version is currently in beta testing, IBM plans to release the final version in early 2009. Despite sharing the same code base as OpenOffice 3.0, this office suite offers slightly different features.

One main difference is the features available. OpenOffice 3.0 offers a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database, and drawing program. IBM's office suite only focuses on a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. A second major difference is the way both office suites handle windows.

In OpenOffice 3.0, each new document appears in a separate window. The problem with this approach is that windows can appear scattered all over the screen and it's easy to get them mixed up with windows of other programs.

To keep everything organized, IBM's suite displays a single window. When you open additional files such as a word processing document or spreadsheet, each file appears in the same window with a separate tab. Such a tabbed interface, similar to those found in most browsers, makes it easy to keep everything neatly organized while allowing you to switch between your different files.

The program's user interface is also much less cluttered and cleaner than OpenOffice 3.0. The top of each tab displays a toolbar of icons with the menu bar at the top of the screen. Clicking on a different tab, such as from a word processing document to a spreadsheet file, changes both the toolbar icons and menu bar. To display additional commands, a palette appears on the right side of the screen. By default, this palette remains attached to your window, but you also have the option of dragging this palette to make it float on the screen.

Perhaps the greatest flaw with this office suite is its limited file format support. By default, you can choose the Open Document Format or the Microsoft Office format. However, this office suite only recognizes the older .doc or .xls file format of previous versions of Microsoft Office, but does not recognize or support the newest versions such as .docx or .xlsx, although it does support the file formats from the ancient Lotus SmartSuite office suite. Keep in mind that this program is still in beta, so the final shipping version may eventually support the new Office 2007/2008 file format.

Since Lotus Symphony will ultimately be free, you have nothing to lose by trying it in its beta form and then downloading and using its final version. Curiously, IBM chose not to incorporate the database or drawing functions of OpenOffice 3.0 into Lotus Symphony so if you need those functions, you should probably stick with OpenOffice 3.0.

If you need an office suite that comes with the massive financial and technical support of IBM behind it, Lotus Symphony is definitely a program to try. Its tabbed interface feels more efficient than the separate window approach of rival office suites, but its limited support for other file formats may give you a reason to use something else.

by MacNN Staff





  1. Constable Odo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    If so many people think

    Microsoft Office sucks, then why does everyone continue to buy it. I've been using it for years and I have no problem with it but most people say it bloated and overpriced. It seems strange that there haven't been any alternative office suites that could have kicked it aside by now.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It sucks because

    It sucks but it's the only standard office suite available on the Windblows platform. Therefore if 95% of all computer users, who run Windows, is using office, what other choice does everyone else have if they want to be able to read those files? Welcome to Microsoft!

  1. jpellino

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Intel only...

    sigh My iBook G4 isn't even out of its 3-year AppleCare yet and it's being abandoned.

  1. mkral

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Office is fine

    I'm with constable. I've been using MS Office mac for years & it works fine. I get that some people don't like anything MS & probably for good reason, but MS Office is actually a nice group of software. It works well on my macs, is reasonably priced & is compatible with my office mates who use windows. Hardly the monstrosity some people make it out to be.

  1. mkral

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Office is fine

    I'm with constable. I've been using MS Office mac for years & it works fine. I get that some people don't like anything MS & probably for good reason, but MS Office is actually a nice group of software. It works well on my macs, is reasonably priced & is compatible with my office mates who use windows. Hardly the monstrosity some people make it out to be.

  1. slur

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Who would have thought... day all the standard office software would essentially be generic, or that companies like IBM and Google would release it for free? All I can say is it's great to see a new competitor in the arena, and best of luck to IBM in helping to undermine Microsoft's ridiculous marketshare!

    Now, let's just hope the office suite keeps evolving, and that we see more use of open formats... (Not that I'm worried! Just imagine what OpenOffice 2050 is going to be like - w00t!)

  1. bhuot

    Joined: Dec 1969


    not good enough

    For some people, $150 for a viewer application is too much especially with all the bugs and malware. I also don't think Bill Gates needs any more money and I like to be able to read my documents without depending on the whims and commercial success of Microsoft.

  1. webraider

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It's Okay

    Office for the Mac is Okay. But if you ask me, the Word Perfect suite was much more intuitive AND Pages is the same. Thing is.. I need compatibility. Macros isn't an issue for me but I do like the Mac version better than the PC version.

  1. Sabon

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "I've never used anything but Microsoft Office so I don't see why anyone would use anything else."

    Or basically something like that. HOW WOULD YOU KNOW if anything is better if you never try anything else while keeping an open mind.

    Only through experimenting with other operating systems and office suites will you ever know if what you are using is actually good or not. Keep in mind there is a thousand ways to do things. Other office suites are not meant to do things the say way as MS Office. That's the whole point of having other office suites.

    For the person that liked WordPerfect (WP) a lot better, I agree with them. However Corel certainly has done a pretty good job of s******* quite a few things up in WP.

    If I was a programmer what I would be doing is making the closest thing to WP for Mac that I could. I MUCH prefer the way WP does things or actually, DID things.

    I'd go back to WordPerfect 6 or WP 5.1, take the best things they did in that version and make an updated word processor.

    Then I'd create a new spreadsheet based on Lotus 1-2-3 from ten years ago and use that as the model and go from there to include everything I've wanted since then.

    One thing I wouldn't include would be Visual Basic. If someone else wanted to create something to convert things back and forth between my scripting languages and VB that would be up to them. But I have no interest in that while knowing other people do. It's better to have people that like something do the work than someone like me that doesn't like it.

    What's my beef with VB? Take 100 average accounting people, the key word is AVERAGE and tell them to create macros with the scripting language for VB and Lotus 1-2-3. The scripting language for 1-2-3 can't do as much ... now as VB. But like I said. That's where you start. Without s******* things up and trying to make it into a programming language you enhance it while NEVER making it harder for average people to use. It isn't easy but the users are the most important. If they can't use it, it doesn't mean bleep.

    I'm a computer systems analyst. Part of my job is doing things for people that can't do it themselves. I'd rather teach them how to fish and fishing with 1-2-3 scripts is far easier for them to understand and learn. Keep in mind that MS purposely didn't try to keep VB easy to learn. They have built an industry for contractors to create things for people. I want to cut those contractors out and let the people that use the spreadsheets create their own.

    As for people who can't understand why anyone would want to use anything other than MS products. Get your head out Bill Gates rear end and look around. There is a big world out there to be explored. What you find just might surprise you.

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