Wednesday, September 08, 2010

OpenOffice vs Symphony

I was working with a client yesterday who had decided to let their MS licensing expire in the interest of adopting OpenOffice.  While I was a large proponent of OpenOffice for a long time, and have not personally used MS Office for over three years now, I have to admit that I had not really spent a lot of time with OpenOffice lately.  That said, despite the fact that Symphony is built upon, there are a few things notably different about the two products.

Symphony Features:

  • Extensible.  With a toolkit, API, and native integration points, it is a critical piece of the integrated Lotus desktop experience.
  • Centrally Manageable.  *
  • Supported by IBM.
  • Integrates into a rich desktop experience.

Extensibility of Symphony is one of the key features of the product.  It features a toolkit and has a well documented API.  More information about developing for/with Symphony can be found on the Symphony developers website.
Symphony's integration with Lotus Notes is also a distinguishing feature of the product.  This integration enabled administrators to bundle Symphony with the Notes Client during distribution and upgrade.  It also means that some elements of the applications settings that can be managed by Policies from the Domino server.  Upgrades to it can also be made available on the Domino server (or any other Eclipse update site) independent of a Notes client upgrade.  If your Notes client is configured to download updates from an Eclipse update site, no administrator or engineer needs to visit the workstation to deploy an update to Symphony.  Now this does come at a small price.  To use any of the office productivity components you need to launch Lotus Notes.  The system requirements of Notes is a bit larger than just Symphony, but if you have multiple JREs running simultaneously on your system (assuming you decided to run Notes, Sametime, and Symphony as separate apps) then the overall memory footprint of Notes with all feature vs each in its' own Eclipse environment is noticeable. 
Support from IBM on the product means that a major company is behind the software, and you can expect the same level of service or support for the product as you would have of any other IBM product.
When running Symphony, you can also take advantage of the connector for Quickr or Sametime integration into Symphony.  If you happen to be using Sharepoint, there is also a plugin for that as well.  Symphony is really designed for enterprise use, but continues to be a no-cost, near-open product.
Discussion points to consider here, however, are enterprise management concepts, ease of upgrade, and integration for an overall desktop experience.
Let's not forget OpenOffice.  Right away, it is obvious that OpenOffice has more features and components.   Besides the core Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations we see with Symphony, we also have Drawings and Databases in  This competes with more of the MS Office suite then Symphony does.  The listed system requirements for Symphony looks better on paper, but from a lot of blog posts and personal experience, they are very conservative in the requirements.  You should double them to have really fly.  This, however, does not tend to be an issue with modern equipment.  Since Symphony is based on, the enhancements to the code stream will hit first.  The delay in features could be as long as a year later from when they are in Beta for OpenOffice, to when they are in Symphony.  This could be a bit of a struggle for Symphony adoption for the more proficient office productivity users.
I think overall, the decision comes down to features vs manageability.  OpenOffice is a very nice product packed with features, while Symphony is a piece of a larger integrated and enterprise scalable solution.  The availability of plug-ins, templates, and development opportunities within Symphony are an interesting contrast to the ability to really replace almost all of the MS Office suite with OpenOffice.  I intend to use both for some time longer and report back with additional findings in the next few weeks.
You can also find more information about Lotus Symphony at the Symphony Wiki.

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