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IBM releases next Symphony – Microsoft Office beware ?

IBM has released the second version of the popular desktop document software, Lotus Symphony which has already been downloaded by more than a quarter-million registered users — 88 percent of which are Microsoft customers — in its first two months. With Lotus Symphony Beta 2, IBM has raised performance, access and ease-of-use — everything except price, which remains no charge.

IBM has employed several innovative approaches to driving the success of Lotus Symphony. Operating in a user-driven model in which customers are empowered to co-design the software through feedback on the Symphony Web page, IBM has responded to a range of customer requests. For one, the Symphony download process has accelerated by 100 percent. Early adopters were experiencing installation problems after downloading due to the packaging of the programme and vocalised their frustrations on the Symphony site. IBM responded by simplifying the download process. Now users have an instant, one-click installation that produces one Symphony icon for all three document editors. Clicking on the single icon allows the user to opt for a word-processing document, a spreadsheet or a presentation file.

Application performance speed was another area of user interest. The IBM technical team went into trouble-shooting mode and quickly identified areas in the code that could be better optimised and tuned. The IBM team addressed the issue by re-coding areas in the code that were not optimised and tuned for performance. As a result, overall performance has improved and some functions such as opening existing presentations run on average 50 percent faster.

The Symphony user community has provided feedback on other features and functions, some that have been included in this release and others that are still in the pipeline. For example, IBM Support is more readily available. Now when users click on help within the Symphony editors, they are given a new menu choice that allows them to connect directly to the Symphony Web page via a browser. The User Forum has also been redesigned based on feedback from the community that makes it easier to post comments in the right places.

“You did a really good job!”” remarked user “”Jacek.”” “”This week I had a few presentations for a commercial training so I picked Symphony to help me and it was really fun to work with and learn this new tool.””

“”Symphony Documents is generally a great application programme,”” wrote Robert Robinson. “”It is missing a few important features like envelope printing, but overall is a fine product. The interface is clean, friendly and easy to use.‚

Another innovation contributing to Symphony’s success is the agile development process IBM developers are employing in the construction of Symphony. In agile development, teams of software experts work around the clock and in Symphony’s case, around the world, to improve the product in a continuous cycle that results in users seeing better technology faster. As developers isolate issues, identify improvements and make them, they are able to update the master product in incremental “”code drops”” that are delivered to customers in mere weeks instead of waiting years for major releases such as the next version of Microsoft Office. Symphony Beta 2, for example, was born in just eight weeks, with users at the controls and a very agile development team.

While the core of the Lotus Symphony development team is in China, IBM also has engineers, information technology architects and operations personnel worldwide who support it among IBM’s Open Document Format initiatives. IBM joined on September 10 initially contributing software code for human accessibility before launching Lotus Symphony on September 18. Due to the strong market response of Symphony, IBM is doubling its global resources on Symphony, which includes increasing the development team to more than 70 software programmers.

“”Lotus Symphony has struck a deeper chord in society than any commercial product we’ve seen,”” said Mike Rhodin. “”It’s a spirit of independence, born of common sense. In this age of innovation, why should we pay a premium for the basic instruments that allow us to record information, rather than focus on what we do with it? IBM will continue to make it easier to access Symphony until it opens the door to innovation on every desktop.””

Toward that end, IBM has adjusted its normal product licensing restrictions. Since Symphony is a special offering akin to a public service, IBM is encouraging others to provide it as well. Now third parties can offer Symphony online or physically to their constituents without requiring special agreements or visiting the Lotus Symphony Web page on In fact, several media outlets around the world have requested the rights to redistribute Symphony and are planning to do so.

In the interim, IBM is providing video demonstrations on Symphony ( and on how people come to the conclusion that there’s more than one choice for productivity software in the office ( ).

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