Internet users may now access IBM's Lotus Symphony office suite for free from IBM's Web site. The program, which permits the user to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations from software stored on IBM's servers, is available for both Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems, with support for the Apple Mac OS platform planned for the future.
Alternatively, Microsoft's Office Suite for both XP and Vista is now listed on Amazon starting at $325 for the standard version.
Rob Tidrow, a computer programmer who has written several guides to using Microsoft Office, says that "Symphony does not lack many features that even power users of Office need," according to Reuters. Tidrow has installed Symphony on the computers of his two children, and says it can meet the needs of churches, schools, and small businesses. Tidrow just finished writing IBM Lotus Symphony for Dummies.
Another satisfied user is Pierre Avignon, a graphics designer from West Newbury, Massachusetts. RedOrbit reports that Avignon uses Symphony for the kind of work he used to perform on Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. But he says that when he tells his friends about Symphony, "As soon as you say it's free, (people) feel less comfortable. They say 'What's the catch?'"
In some cases, the catch may be a time cost. For small businesses already using Microsoft Office the migration to Symphony could be complicated, canadianbusiness.com says. One way around this problem is to save documents in Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format (PDF), and e-mail them as read-only files, a solution that IBM also suggests. IBM does not offer technical support for Symphony.
Untangling accounting software that is hooked in with Excel, or collaboration platforms or content management tools that link with Word can also be difficult. "Everything is dedicated to integrate well with Microsoft Office," says Fen Yik, an analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ontario, according to canadianbusiness.com, "and that is not necessarily the case with other productivity suites."
But Symphony and other free programs like OpenOffice, which includes a database program and drawing software, and Google Docs are becoming attractive alternatives for businesses that do not have large technology budgets as well as for personal use.
"Ninety percent of the users don't need all the functionality that Office provides," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research, according to Reuters. "Ninety percent of people basically just use Excel to make lists."