Talking tech since 2003

The other day, I received an email as part of an IBM (International Business Machines) mailing list informing me of the availability of the Lotus Symphony 3.0 beta.  For those of you who do not know, Lotus Symphony is IBM’s office suite product.  It contains a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, and a presentation tool.  Symphony is built to work in harmony with IBM’s “Lotus Notes” email and calendar management program, however can be downloaded and used as a standalone product free of charge.  I had used Lotus Symphony before (sometime around December of 2007 if I recall correctly), however ultimately decided to uninstall it because it seemed to lag on my machine, and I did not feel that it was an overall stable product.

One of the things that intrigued me in the email was that the 3.0 version of Symphony is based upon; one of the most well-known and robust open-source productivity suites.  What this meant to me was that the product was intended to be functional and stable.  Further, because began supporting the Microsoft Office 2007 file types with their 3.0 release, it was a given that Symphony 3.0 would have the same support as well.

Finding the setup file from the Symphony page of IBM’s website took only a matter of seconds.  From there, I had a relatively fast download speed, and installation took less than five minutes.

Upon first launching Symphony, I felt that it was laid out very nicely; one of the things I remember liking about it in my previous dealings.  The first screen I was presented with was the “Home” screen, which allowed me to begin working with documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.  I like the concept of having everything in one tabbed window, as it allows for me to reference other files easier.  Additionally, I felt that only having one window open was excellent in the sense that it required less space on my taskbar.  This complements the new Windows 7 taskbar (and the Mac dock) very well.

All of the individual components of the suite (word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations) share a similar layout.  This layout, however, is very unique to Symphony, and in my opinion is a bit difficult to get used to.  The tools pallet is located on the right-hand side of the screen, and in a way reminds me of the utilities bar in the Opera web browser.  I believe that it’s fairly apparent that IBM wanted to mimic the “ribbon menu” that is seen in the Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 lines.

Performance-wise, Symphony took up between 20 and 80 megabytes of RAM on my machine.  Additionally, I felt the same “lag” switching between text and spreadsheet files, which in some cases lasted up to five seconds.  In my tests, Symphony was able to successfully open up Word 2007 and ODF (Open Document Format) documents with relative ease.  I don’t do a ton of formatting in my text documents, so this likely made it easier.

I wasn’t very impressed with the “Help” menu, as it was entirely HTML-based, took a while to perform searches, and required an additional window to be opened.  I would have much rather seen an integrated help option, such as the one in Microsoft Word 2007, or at very least an industry-standard compiled HTML help file (.chm).

Overall, while there are definitely some flaws in the beta of Symphony 3.0, it’s important to realize that it is indeed a beta, and is not a finished product.  Ideally, IBM will fix the performance issues (mainly the “lag” between switching tabs) for the final version.  While I do not really like the navigation of the program (the layout of buttons, etc.), it is something that I could potentially get used to.  In the long run, I don’t see myself recommending Symphony to a friend, mainly because I don’t feel that is as stable or as well supported as Microsoft Office or  However, I would definitely be willing to give Symphony another shot when the finalized version is released.

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