The first press release from Tuesday's Lotus Collaboration Summit has hit the wire.  IBM is announcing today the release of Lotus Symphony, "a suite of free software tools for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations."  Symphony is available starting today at ibm.com/lotus/symphony to all users -- business, professional, academic, and yes, consumer.

Symphony includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool.  These are the same as the productivity editors included in Lotus Notes 8.  They run on Windows and Linux, and support Open Document Formats and Microsoft Office (XP etc) formats, as well as supporting a PDF export capability.

I'm excited about this announcement on many levels.  First, it shows the strategic nature, based on current and future plans, of IBM's investment in delivering the editors in Notes 8 as well as through other channels.  Second, it offers something from the Lotus brand focused on the end-user/consumer.  Third, it demonstrates the strength of IBM's commitment behind desktop alternatives (Linux, ODF, etc) to the broader market -- which should help with all distributions of OpenOffice.org-based editor tools, today and tomorrow.

This announcement has been in the works for some time, and I can remember discussions about recycling the "Lotus Symphony" product name many many months ago.  I am not sure if there is any precedent in the software world for re-use of a classic product name, but I think "Symphony" works here on several levels.  While a very small number of IT types will know that the name has been used before, and some cynics will probably try to draw comparisons, it's a very strong label for describing the current and future intent from IBM Lotus around these editors.  I also like the bit of nostalgia in Lotus's renewed focus on the desktop.

I'm sure there will be many questions about Symphony in the coming days.  A few that I can anticipate:

What about SmartSuite?  There are several reasons for taking a different approach, including moving to an open client model (based on Eclipse and Lotus Expeditor) and an Open Document Format.  SmartSuite files can be imported into the Symphony editors.

What about support?  Initially, this stand-alone offering is being delivered as a beta, with web forum and community support tools on ibm.com.  Other support options are being considered for the future.

What about updating to a more recent version of OpenOffice.org code?  Tie this in with last week's announcement of IBM joining the OpenOffice.org community, and you can logically see where this is going.

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times have stories in Tuesday's editions, and the online links are below.

Link: Wall Street Journal: Free IBM Software Is Bid to Challenge Microsoft Office >

Link: New York Times: I.B.M. to Offer Office Software Free in Challenge to Microsoft's Line >

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