IBM’s “office” software – a total load of crap

Disclaimer: These opinions are my own and not my employer’s. In fact, my employer’s opinions on this matter are probably diametrically opposite of my own.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that IBM released, for free, some office software called Lotus Symphony. This is a public release of an internal version of the software called IBM Productivity Tools. Those two sentences are amazingly hilarious if you know a bit of history (first sentence) or have ever used the software (second sentence). Allow me to explain.

In the mid 1980s Lotus (before IBM bought them in 1995) released an office suite for DOS called Lotus Symphony. From everything I’ve read online it wasn’t very successful. Its amazing that they would resurrect the name for this new, completely unrelated, office suite. It’s like naming a modern cruise ship the Titanic.

IBM’s latest release of Lotus Notes v8 is based on Eclipse. Eclipse is a huge java-based framework that everyone agrees is a resource hog and horribly slow. Allow me to digress a bit and discuss how Eclipse is not a good framework choice. The new version of Sametime 7.5, IBM’s instant messaging client, is also based on Eclipse and takes 225MB of RAM to run, not including the memory footprint of any shared libraries. A simple messaging client! And to cut off their nose despite their face, IBM has decreed that all internal users are not allowed to use other Sametime-compatible IM clients (that use less than half the RAM) and use this POS. Hope they allocate enough money to upgrade everyone’s workstations — Lotus Notes v8 takes 1GB RAM.

Now, back to the IBM Productivity Tools. Lotus Notes v8 bundles the internal version of Lotus Symphony called IBM Productivity Tools. As if Lotus Notes weren’t unstable enough (this is the product that ships with a program called “IBM Notes 8 Zap” to clean up your system resources after the program crashes), these tools induce more instability and causes Notes to crash on my system twice as frequently as before. Luckily on Linux its relatively easy to uninstall this monstrosity. There’s nothing productive about this software.

Now, to be fair no software is perfect and given enough time and resources I’m sure they can fix the instability if that were the biggest downfall of the software. But its not. No, the biggest downside of the software is that it is less feature complete than another piece of freely-downloadable software: In fact, Lotus Symphony is based on a fork of the 1.x source code that was then bolted onto Eclipse. Meanwhile since the fork, has continued improving their software and last week released version 2.3.

Here’s a synopsis of why you should avoid Lotus Symphony:

  • Its based on an older version of and is not as feature rich as 2.3
  • 2.3 is just as free as Lotus Symphony
  • has been around longer and a proven track record
  • Lotus Symphony comes burdened with the Eclipse framework and requires more system resources than 2.3

Given all of that, why is IBM even bothering with Lotus Symphony? In a word: politics. You see, is based off of StarOffice which is owned by Sun. Sun and IBM have never played well together and I imagine is one reason why IBM would rather spend millions of dollars coming up with their own office suite (granted, originally based off of Sun’s code) than simply allowing their employees to use Moreover, IBM is trying to stir up some trouble with Microsoft, another long-time rival. Microsoft is trying to make their OOXML file format, the format that all recent version of Office use, an ISO standard thereby further entrenching their stranglehold on the productivity software market. IBM, along with others, are trying to push the already-accepted ISO standard ODF which StarOffice,, and Lotus Symphony all support, among others. By bundling a version of Lotus Symphony (ie: IBM Productivity Tools) into Lotus Notes which is popular among corporations, they hope to give companies incentive to stop purchasing Microsoft Office. See what a convoluted web that is?

In short, don’t bother downloading Lotus Symphony and instead click yourself over to the website and download OOo 2.3. It opens and saves Microsoft Office files with more features and without the bloat of Lotus Symphony and significantly cheaper (hint: its free) compared to Microsoft Office’s $125-$400 price-tag.