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Microsoft Office vs. OpenOffice vs. Lotus Symphony

The heat is on, Microsoft pushes against OpenOffice, Infoworld analyses the rationale behind the attack and Lotus Symphony is due for its version 3.0. Imagine for a moment you get hired as CTO or CIO of a large organization. Which one would you pick and standardise on? My take: divide and conquer. You have two groups of users: your existing base with paid-for licences and new users who don't have an [Insert-your-flavour-here] office licence yet. For old world economies the later group might not exist, so we have a clear emerging economy only problem at hand. So for the first group the big question: what improvement would a new version bring? Most likely none given the way office documents are probably used. For the later group a package that allows to seamlessly interact with the first group makes sense. Now you can start arguing if that is given with [Insert-your-flavour-here].
However your real effort should go into a review: what office documents can be eradicated from your organisation. All these stand-alone documents, living on users hard drives or in document repositories form little islands of poorly structured information that are more and more difficult to manage and maintain. We have tons of tools, beginning with eMail, who try to make these office blobs flow nicely instead of starting with information flow in the beginning. All these macro-infested spreadsheets that form the backbone of your monthly reporting would be better replaced by a dashboard, the tons of text document forming the requirements for that software project live happily in a WIKI and the progress reports are just fine in that blog. Need to have a spreadsheet front-end to a database with concurrent editing capabilities? Try ZK Spreadsheet. Need a list? Try Quickr or this. While you are on it make sure all this tooling works well on mobile devices (office documents don't work well). You will reach the point where your remaining document needs will be rather simple. Then go and revisit your Office decision again.

Posted by on 18 October 2010 | Comments (9) | categories: Software


  1. posted by Patrick Kwinten on Monday 18 October 2010 AD:
    after paperless office I guess its time for officeless offices Emoticon laugh.gif
  2. posted by Nick Halliwell on Tuesday 19 October 2010 AD:
    Well Said. You have eluded to Notes document databases not not mention them specifically.

    Rather than using and MS Office or OOo or Symphony, just enter the text natively into a Notes document lib. Its far quicker and easier and support everything that is needed for the type of document that people are talking about. If its a presentation just pot the actual document into a doc lib record and everyone can share it. Notes full indexes the document so that it is really easy to find that information again. No more loosing documents when a local HD dies, or staff leave and delete important documents. Only Notes can do all of this and its Oh so cheep in comparison to anything else, especially MS Office.
  3. posted by Thilo Hamberger on Tuesday 19 October 2010 AD:
    We are a large company and in the process of evaluating a new office suite (MS Office so far). Even though we have Lotus Notes, Symphony is not an option for us. Symphony is an IBM-only product. You get no support outside of IBM (e.g. learning material) and in case IBM dumps Symphony then you are on your own. Even IBMer are not very keen helping you with Symphony.
  4. posted by Stephan H. Wissel on Tuesday 19 October 2010 AD:
    @Thilo: One important consideration for office packages is the file format. More often than not you will process files in the backend without the office application installed. Lotus Symphony uses the ISO approved ODF format, as does OpenOffice KOffice and a few others. Microsoft on the other hand pushed a document format through the ISO process using very questionable methods. In the end they got a standard that is NOT implemented in their own products.
    And seriously: you can remove 90% of office needs when planning a little. One customer of mine - a decade ago - moved ALL letters from Office to Notes. Their trick was to have a separate module for print (Notes doesn't print as we all know it). All form letters, notifications etc. simply were a RichText and at "print" time the user could pick: Be a letter, be a fax, be an eMail, be an attachment to an email. Super efficient. I can link you up with the German BP I was working with then.
    As I said above: eliminate needs first.
    Emoticon biggrin.gif stw
  5. posted by Henning Heinz on Tuesday 19 October 2010 AD:
    You mean your customer is using ISO unapproved Lotus Notes Richtext Emoticon biggrin.gif

  6. posted by Stephan H. Wissel on Tuesday 19 October 2010 AD:
    @Henning: they started with RichText, by now it is w3 standardized MIME.

    The way more interesting part is the fact that the real work is stored in a very structured and predictable fashion: the meta data. A office document (regardless what flavor of office you pick) doesn't tell you: what process does it belong to. Who needs to act, what needs to be done, who did work on it, what has been approved etc. The whole discussion around office packages obscures the fact that none of them addresses the real questions modern organisation face: putting information in context and in flow. Notes does that as does Sharepoint --- both requiring applications on top. The question of course: if my office package doesn't solve my real issues, why do I need all these features (and their associated cost).
    Emoticon biggrin.gif stw
  7. posted by Andrew Magerman on Wednesday 20 October 2010 AD:
    That is a really really good insight.

    It makes me think of when people first starting using Word documents. You would get documents completely formatted with spaces and tabs with hard carriage returns at the end of each line. It took a long time to get people to understand that what was important was not how the thing printed, but the actual information, and formatting it that horrible way decreased the value of the document because it could not be reused.

    So - away from the printout, to the data, and now, a step further- concentrate on the metadata!
  8. posted by Tech Support on Tuesday 24 May 2011 AD:
    For me Open Office is the superior package.
  9. posted by Stephan H. Wissel on Tuesday 24 May 2011 AD:
    @TechSupport: Could you elaborate? Symphony has a more consistent UI and a better extensibility model - OSGI.