Imagine everyone’s surprise this morning when IBM not only announces that they are working on an office suite package, Lotus Symphony, but that it’s geared towards consumers, not businesses, and it’s based on OpenOffice.org, and… oh yeah… the beta is available immediately!
BetaNews caught my attention this morning, and it looked nice, so I downloaded it and took it for a spin.
Lo and behold, this suite is the best OpenOffice.org offshoot I’ve used thus far. StarOffice and Openoffice.org are both nice products, but the layout and graphical tweaking done on Lotus Symphony is just great.
First of all, the beautiful blue rounded tabs of each document make for a warm, modern, and welcome theme. The formatting controls on the right hand side are smartly available like Office 2007’s “ribbon”, Also, the buttons are attractive and easily decipherable and the best part is that I can actually find what I’m looking for. I’ve been using Office 2007 for a few months now, and my biggest pet peeve in Word is that I often highlight text as I read it and a floating formatting box pops up, often causing my to mistakenly format the text I’m reading. Symphony doesn’t have that problem.
As far as compatibility goes, I tried opening several Word documents, some complex with embedded images, Word Art, formulas, tables, forms, protection, and more, and it handled all of them properly, often with only minor format tweaks if any at all. It would not read my Office 2007 .docx files. It did easily import some complex Excel files without flinching.
It imported all of my Open Document formatted documents perfectly, as expected.
As far as Powerpoint compatibility goes, it properly formatted a templated, fairly hairy presentation, but the tools to manipulate presentations were not immediately understandable, so the Presentation interface manipulation portion of Symphony needs some tinkering for certain.
The only weird choice, one I’m very confused about, is their decision to move *back* to a single window frame. StafOffice 6 used this “desktop” view to encapsulate all of its components, and that was done away with for OpenOffice.org 1.0. Oddly, now that tabbed-interfaces are all the rage, Symphony makes the single window usable again. I’m actually pretty jazzed to see this paradigm begin to work. It is much better executed now than it was with previous versions of Star Office.
Other than that, Lotus Symphony is a really beautiful start to a free office suite. I cannot imagine ever wanting to go back to OpenOffice.org after using this program as an alternative. That said, I hope they bring me my Mac version soon!