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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

By Mayank Sharma on October 04, 2007 (4:00:00 PM)

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Last month, just one week after IBM announced it would help with OpenOffice.org's development, the company released Lotus Symphony, an office suite based on OpenOffice.org code. I found a lot of slick features in Lotus Symphony, but I worry that Symphony could affect the OpenOffice.org community adversely.

Lotus Symphony includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program, and a presentation tool. You'll have to register with IBM to download Symphony. Installing the office suite is a no-brainer, and requires 490.5MB of disk space.

Symphony doesn't launch any faster than OpenOffice.org. It offers ODF as the default save option in all three applications, but it also lets you save a document, spreadsheet, or presentation in Microsoft Office format, or plain text or RTF. You can also export documents as PDF files or save them under a beta release of the OpenStorm format.

The best thing in Symphony is its use of tabs, each of which can hold an individual office document. The tabs look and behave the same way they do in the Firefox Web browser. Switching between tabs is smooth and almost instantaneous, which is impressive considering that, depending on what document a tab holds, the visible controls also change. For example, if you switch from a tab that has a text document to a tab that holds a presentation, Symphony changes the controls and adjusts the layout of the toolbars to match the presentation tool.

If you work on multiple documents at the same time, keeping track of documents in tabs can get laborious. Lotus Symphony has an ExposÉ-like feature that shows thumbnails of all open documents, but in this beta release, it has a few quirks. In the ExposÉ-like view, the documents are all labeled as if they are unsaved documents, so documents are labeled "New Document," speadsheets are labeled "New Shreadsheet," and presentations are labeled "New Presentation." This nullifies the find feature in the ExposÉ-like view that's designed to search through these open documents based on their file name.

Symphony also includes an integrated browser. If your document contains a link, clicking it will launch the browser in a tab inside the Symphony window. This saves you the time it would take to switch between the browser and the office suite. Symphony also bundles an illustrated in-depth help guide. Coupled with hands-on screencasts, these are enough to get anyone started using the office suite.

IBM has modified the look and feel of OpenOffice.org in a way that's designed to save users time. The whole suite can be controlled from a mouse, and all common operations are within a click or two. Common settings that depend on the type of document, such as type and size of font, text styles like underline, background color, page margins, and cell dimensions, are all grouped in a vertical properties sidebar for easy access.

Depending on what option you choose, additional items appear in a content-sensitive toolbar. For example, when you click the bullets button, a toolbar appears with bullet-related controls. When you're done using these, click the bullet button again and the controls disappear.

Symphony includes some changes in the menu structure as well. IBM has changed the location of the office suite's preferences as well as some of its options. You can choose to start Symphony in the background while your distribution loads, which can save the time it takes to launch Symphony when you open documents.

Bad implementation

Overall, Symphony is a more usable OpenOffice.org. In fact, for a casual, first-time user, Lotus Symphony is nothing like OpenOffice.org. It flawlessly renders complex documents created with Microsoft Office, correctly identifying all comments and their authors, tracking all changes, and importing and implementing styles.

But wouldn't it be better if OpenOffice.org could do all these things? I love the difference between OpenOffice.org and Lotus Symphony, but the way the features were implemented doesn't help the OpenOffice.org community. Since these features were developed on top of OpenOffice.org, wouldn't it be best to release them as plugins? Instead of helping the hordes of volunteer OpenOffice.org developers, IBM has effectively forked the project into a proprietary free-to-download office suite.

When the company announced its plan to dive into OpenOffice.org's development, it said it would initiate the process by chipping in code it has been working on as part of its Lotus Notes product, especially the iAccessible2 accessibility tool. That tool isn't included in the beta release of Lotus Symphony that's currently available for download.

Finally, IBM has put in a lot of effort to make Lotus Symphony newbie-friendly. The accompanying online virtual hands-on tours are detailed and easy to follow. Symphony users have access to additional graphics and templates thanks to the online gallery section the project launched in late September. Here again the project undermines OpenOffice.org users, since the terms of use for the gallery restrict using its content "for your personal, non-commercial use only and only in connection with your use of Lotus Symphony."

Conclusion

Lotus Symphony is an extremely useful office suite. Its interface is designed to save users time, and even in a beta release it's stable. But while IBM might be taking the format war to Microsoft with Lotus Symphony, it's doing so in the worst possible manner for OpenOffice.org.

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on Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.107.122.198] on October 04, 2007 05:08 PM
I'm not so worried about Symphony being some sort of brain drain on Openoffice.org, especially because it takes a ton more of disk space and memory. The specs say 1 Gig of RAM, and though I did manage to install it on a 512 meg XP PC, and test it one file at a time, it ran much more slowly than Openoffice with ten or more files open.

What I was able to check out was impressive, save for one thing, which was a complete irritant and a show-stopper. Symphony makes itself the default for all ODF file types without asking. And if you have Openoffice and prefer it to be the default, there is no way to do undo this, save to uninstall Symphony and then to do a repair install of OOo. That is something they definitely need to correct, no question. This kind of setup may be desirable for a corporate setup, but for a small office or an individual consumer, absolutely not. Symphony should ask permission to take over file types either during installation or when the program is first run. There are probably other similar problems that beta testers will point out, but even if I had the gig of RAM available on the one machine available to test Symphony, I would have uninstalled it since I have to use Openoffice in my daily work, and can't afford to have settings related to that trashed by another program.

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Re: Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: black rabbit on October 05, 2007 02:12 PM
As somebody who has to use the Linux version of Bloatus Notes for work (@!#$% email admin won't turn on IMAP in Domino), there's no freaking way I'd ever touch it. It's pretty sad when your EMAIL CLIENT makes OOo look snappy by comparison.

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One Step Forward, One Step Back

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.54.109.3] on October 04, 2007 06:08 PM
Funny, the original Star Office in which OpenOffice.org is based had a Multiple Document interface. The controls would change when you switched document types. It had a taskbar / icon interface which did exactly the same things TABS do. OpenOffice.org removed that interface and went with separate tools. This was because the majority wanted it that way and complained Star Office was bloated. Now IBM brings it back. Except that instead of a task bar at the bottom of the document you now have tabs at the top and the memory requirements are worse than the old Star Office and the current Open Office combined.

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I don't think Symphony is based on OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.90.11.226] on October 04, 2007 06:12 PM
Where did you read that Symphony is based on OOo? I don't think the programs have anything to do with each other apart from using ODF as a file format. I could be wrong, but I think that Lotus Symphony was a commercially unsuccessful offering from Lotus in the late 1990's that never took off. I think IBM (who bought out Lotus) have modified the program to use ODF and are offering it "free" as in "gratis", but I don't think it is "Free" as in FSF/GPL or "Open" like OOo.

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Re: I don't think Symphony is based on OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.54.109.3] on October 05, 2007 01:38 PM
The first paragraph:

Last month, just one week after IBM announced it would help with OpenOffice.org's development, the company released Lotus Symphony, an office suite based on OpenOffice.org code.

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I don't think Symphony is based on OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.90.11.226] on October 04, 2007 06:14 PM
Where did you read that Symphony is based on OOo? I don't think the programs have anything to do with each other apart from using ODF as a file format. I could be wrong, but I think that Lotus Symphony was a commercially unsuccessful offering from Lotus in the late 1990's that never took off. I think IBM (who bought out Lotus) have modified the program to use ODF and are offering it "free" as in "gratis", but I don't think it is "Free" as in FSF/GPL or "Open" like OOo.

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What would be best is...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.237.86.210] on October 04, 2007 06:28 PM
...a common engine, developed together, and a separate, easy exchangable, User Interface.

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.150.121.98] on October 04, 2007 07:12 PM
Its built on Ecplise. No wonder it is slow.

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More like WordPerfect!

Posted by: Zerias on October 04, 2007 07:20 PM
One of my largest complaints against OpenOffice is their choice of target for development. Aiming for Microsoft Office look and feel is like going for a swim and aiming for an open sewer drain.

With Lotus Symphony, I get the feeling that IBM has junked the idea of following the Microsoft Office format and going for a much better minimum standard. The program reminds me a lot of WordPerfect 9. Personally, I think OpenOffice and Sun should think long and hard about targeting Microsoft products a standard for how their program should behave.

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Re: More like WordPerfect!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.6.249.40] on November 07, 2007 11:51 PM
Hello
I used wordperfect; I use linux now and miss the Wordperfect, I have tried to find it in open source. Any information would be much appreciate any help.
stephen.chaffer@gmail.com

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.142.116.6] on October 04, 2007 07:40 PM
Mind you!
Remember that "IBM" Collaborated with The Nazi's during the late Thirties ( Just do some Googling), So it's no surprise to see them stepping on someone smaller once again!
They either help Open Office org, or leave well alone.

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Re: Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on October 04, 2007 08:43 PM
That's really a stupid comment, the fact is that in the '30's the Nazis were mearly the ruling party of Germany, also what the did to oppress the Jews was similar to what we did to the Native Americans (actually that was part of the inspiration for the ways of oppression they used) so it wasn't unusual and a simple business deal. Also this is the way of open source works out, people can take it and make it their own. I've used both and both are good, but Symphony is too slow for my older laptop.

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Re: It is actually better for OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 143.166.226.57] on October 04, 2007 11:32 PM
This is the one thing that has me torn on OOo right now. Sun demands that they have dictatorial control over OOo but tries to encourage volunteer collaboration, like a hug and a punch at the same time. This means there isn't true community control over OOo, and some speculate they are doing this to keep their Star Office offering steps ahead of OOo so they can sell it better.

On the other hand, if Sun has more control over OOo, they have more responsibility and probably better leverage in case copyrights are violated. I tend to like the idea, though, that there should be an OOo foundation that holds the copyrights instead of Sun.

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OOo? it looks more like eclipse

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.214.105.40] on October 04, 2007 08:36 PM
Are you guys sure it is based on OOo? The help file etc mention eclipse but not OOo.. It even looks/feels more like eclipse. I think you should try again..

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Re: OOo? it looks more like eclipse

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.138.133.193] on October 04, 2007 11:26 PM
Eclipse is an IDE, not an office suite. How, exactly, would you base an office suite on an IDE?

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Re(1): OOo? it looks more like eclipse

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.94.188.188] on October 05, 2007 01:34 AM
That is what plugins are for..

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Definately eclipse

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.214.105.40] on October 04, 2007 08:42 PM
I just got it to throw up on a document with visio embeded.. And..
*** Current Install Configuration:
Install configuration:
Last changed on Oct 4, 2007
Location: file:/C:/Program Files/IBM/Lotus/Symphony/data/.config/org.eclipse.update/platform.xml

Configured sites:
file:/C:/Program Files/IBM/Lotus/Symphony/framework/shared/eclipse/
platform:/base/
file:/C:/Program Files/IBM/Lotus/Symphony/framework/rcp/eclipse/
platform:/config/../applications/eclipse/

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Wrong

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on October 04, 2007 08:44 PM

It flawlessly renders complex documents created with Microsoft Office


I doubt that that is true today - how many differently-formatted complex documents did you try? But I'm 100% sure it will be wrong soon. You can't achieve lasting compatibility with Microsoft formats because as soon as you are getting close, Microsoft will release a new version and change the formats again, making you look pathetic.

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Symphony uses OOo 1.1.4 code

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on October 04, 2007 09:02 PM
At least, that's what I read. So yes, there is common code, but it's not just OpenOffice.org with a different UI.

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Re: Symphony uses OOo 1.1.4 code

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.142.233.37] on October 05, 2007 02:12 AM
And because of that it's much worse at rendering MS formatted documents than the current rev of Openoffice.org (2.3).

Also, symphony does not include the ability to use the "draw" application, create formulas, or open word perfect documents.

It's a pretty face on some really old openoffice code. Much slower than 2.3 also.

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.94.188.188] on October 05, 2007 01:37 AM
If that is true, why does the about page not mention OOo, but credits eclipse "Built on eclipse".. I thought open source software can be used, but source code had to be made available and properly acknowledged.. No way they used OOo code..

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How could this be built on OO.o

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: unknown] on October 05, 2007 01:00 PM
I call BS. This really does not look tob be built on OO.o. How could it be OO.o is licensed under the LGPL (and another similar Sun license). IBM would be violating that license if they would distribute it. I assume they have to make changes to the code, so unless you show me that it's linked to some unmodified part of OO.o I don't believe a word.

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open document

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.76.29.42] on October 05, 2007 01:57 PM
Why if I want to create a document the button says OPEN? Why not NEW?
I really like symphony

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.146.251.29] on October 05, 2007 04:05 PM
Thanks for very interesting article. Keep up the good work. Regards
<a href="http://www.profesjonalna-reklama.pl" target="_blank">Pozycjonowanie</a>

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Initial implementation on Linux is slow and renders poorly

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.223.243.6] on October 05, 2007 04:46 PM
At least on my test system, I found Symphony to work, but it starts slowly and renders documents poorly that are crisp and clean on Open Office. This is an early Beta test, though. I would hope that future works match up with the Open Office release, and also that technologies added to Symphony will also be made freely available to Open Office, thus these become collaborative works. Sure hope it turns out that way.

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 129.42.208.182] on October 08, 2007 08:22 PM
The thing *every* review I've read on IBM/Lotus Symphony (Productivity Tools) misses is that it can read Lotus WordPro and Lotus 1-2-3 files, which nothing else is capable of (some apps like KOffice can read certain older versions like AmiPro, but not the last LWP versions, or the .123 files). This and the fact that it integrates with the Lotus Notes8 client (yet another bloatmeister) will make it attractive to companies stuck with that behemoth.
[Modified by: Anonymous on October 08, 2007 08:23 PM]

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No window manager inside a window

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.162.60.128] on October 14, 2007 03:08 AM
It seems that nowadays every program needs to fit a window manager inside it's window. It becomes very messy and unusable this way. Let the window manager do it's job and let the windows just be windows. Even tabs in firefox can become enoying: having to remember which firefox window contained what tab where. I see all this tab development largely as a short coming of many window managers (including winblows mess) to deal properly with the numerous set of windows that we use. Expose inside ooffice ? noway

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.61.228.164] on November 01, 2007 04:21 AM
Thanks for sharing this with us.
<a href="http://www.yellobook.eu">yellowpages</a>

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Sweet Symphony is out of tune with OOo

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.6.180.244] on January 28, 2008 09:55 AM
Wonderful to see people posting comments on something they appear to have not bothered to actually find out about.

Yes Symphony is based on OOo code
Yes the Symphony interface is based on the Eclipse IDE (RCP version)
No Symphony is not based on the 1980's Spreadsheet/Integrated Environment it just borrows the name (I used that product extensively)

Now why not actually find out a little about the subject before commenting, it doesn't take a huge amount of effort.

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