IBM Announces Free Lotus-based 'Office' Alternative

lotusHot on the heels of yesterday’s Google announcement, IBM has announced that it’ll be offering "Lotus Symphony" on its website as a free download. The software will contain programs similar to Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, albeit with fewer advanced features.

I love that this kind of stuff is happening because it represents (or will soon represent) a big shift in how people perceive the dollar value of software as well as strengthen the open source movement. A few years ago, if you didn’t have Microsoft Office and you didn’t know about OpenOffice or any other open source alternatives, you had no choice but to pony up big bucks. Many people would buy a new computer and say, “Well now I have to buy Office because people send me Word files as attachments and I need to be able to open them.” Now you’ve got free alternatives from big, big names like Google and IBM.

Not long ago, I worked for an internet news company that employed between 300 and 400 people worldwide and had Microsoft Office installed on every employee’s computer. Nobody really used any of Office’s advanced features except for a few people here and there who got really moist about making Excel formulas. Being the cheapskate that I am I’d always think about how, if I owned a company with that many people, we’d all use Gmail and Google Documents or Zoho and then if someone was really hot for Excel, they could have it installed on their computer, but only if they asked for it. It was a boring job. I used to daydream a lot.

But Office has far more features, right? Right. That’s all well and good but I think as time goes on, we’ll start to see Office become more and more of a niche product that only people who need those extra features will use. A lot of the articles you see floating around about this subject might make it seem like these free offerings are going to topple Microsoft when, in actuality, I don’t see what Google or IBM is offering as trying to replace Office. It’s more along the lines of "Why pay all this money to be able to open attachments and occasionally tap out a Word document?"

I.B.M. to Offer Office Software Free in Challenge to Microsoft’s Line [New York Times]