IBM Tuesday released the second beta of its free Lotus Symphony productivity applications suite and says a final version will ship next year designed to drive adoption of open file formats.
IBM spent less than two months revving the first beta of Symphony, a suite of document, spreadsheet and presentation applications available free.
IBM unveiled Symphony on 10 September with the intent of taking on Microsoft Office. The company is using what it calls "agile development" to turn over new versions of the software every six to eight weeks, according to Mike Rhodin, general manger of IBM Lotus.
But Rhodin is not concerned so much with the short-term rollover of betas as he is with a larger initiative IBM is pushing on the back of Symphony.
"We still have a ways to go with Symphony, but we are committed to this as a way to get [acceptance of] open file formats," says Rhodin. Symphony supports the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and is built on the OpenOffice.org 1.2 code base.
"The real strategic importance from our view is on working with others in the industry to get ODF adopted. You need to have a commercial distribution that people are comfortable with deploying in a business environment in order to get that adoption. I think we are putting that kind of a stamp on this," he says.
Rhodin says IBM would have a final shipping version next year. "I think for enterprise adoption you have to say this is the official version."
He says one key will be file format compatibility, notably with Microsoft Office.
"Right now, compatibility is in the high 90s, and that is pretty good," says Rhodin, who uses the suite exclusively.
Rhodin says the one thing lacking from Symphony is language support. He says Beta 3, due out before the end of this year, will include support for 23 languages.
Despite being English-only to date, IBM says 50% of Symphony downloads have been outside the Americas. In addition, IBM says 12% of downloads have been for the Linux platforms Symphony supports: Novell and Red Hat.
Rhodin says IBM will eventually offer fee-based phone support for Symphony for those who feel they need it.
"I don't expect a lot of people to buy it," he says. "The reality is when was the last time you called Microsoft about a bug in PowerPoint?"
Rhodin says IBM will use the Symphony Web site forum to manage feature requests, bug reports and self-help, and will add wikis for IBM and the Symphony user community to communicate.
"We will turn the Symphony Web site into a social-networking showcase on how to distribute and manage software in the field," Rhodin says.
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