Lotus Symphony Linux Beta Review

[ Thursday, 1 November 2007, michuk ]

Recently I’ve laid my hands on the new IBM’s child — Lotus Symphony (beta version). It is an office suite based on OpenOffice.org. Lotus Symphony includes text editor, spreadsheet and presentation tool. I’ve, decided to try this new IBM wonder.

Author: Borys Musielak

Lotus Symphony is to be free of charge (but not free) competitor on the office suites market for OpenOffice.org and Star Office (and perhaps even Microsoft Office). It offers ISO26300 (Open Document Format) standard support and support for closed formats of Microsoft and old IBM formats (used in Lotus SmartSuite).

How to get beta version of Lotus Symphony?

To download the beta version of this software you should “just” enter the project’s homepage and register there (in case you don’t have a account). Whole process took me some time because the magical download applet just didn’t work. After a few unsuccessful tries I found the traditional version and downloaded it to make tests described in this article.


I had no problems with installation. The only disadvantage here is the lack of packages for different distributions. You can get the binary installer only (no execute rights, so you have to remember to use chmod). The installer unpacks automatically the installation program. You have to run this program manually using terminal (you don’t have to use chmod at this stage).




Installation and the first run screenshots…

First run

After the installation the text editor was launched automatically. My fair tries to interact with the editor ended by its spectacular crash, however. So consequently I told him to killall -9 itself. Another try was a bit more successful.

Before that however, I had an unpleasant surprise. Lotus — without asking — became my default OpenDocument application. That was not our agreement!

But forget about this for a moment. I decided to continue my “adventure” with Symphony. Unfortunately Lotus had a different opinion about this. Another try to run this program was unsuccessful, neither by clicking a ODF file, nor by choosing Lotus from menu “Office” (Lotus was added automatically to the menu). Even command "/opt/ibm/lotus/Symphony/framework/shared/eclipse/plugins/
Lotus Symphony Documents"
gave no result at all.

As you can see “beta” means totally different things depending on corporation (compare Google products marked as betas). In the IBM case it is rather about “developers beta”, or “let us give it try, maybe it will work”. Well, in my case it didn’t work.

Using Sympthony

Thanks to goudacaster’s comment on jakilinux.org I’ve noticed that my Lotus Symphony installer gave no execution rights to the default user :) . Fast sudo chown -R borys.borys /home/borys/lotus did the trick and I could test IBM office suite again.

OpenOffice.org compatibility

And so we come back to the tests again. The most interesting thing for me was the compatibility of the new suite with OpenOffice.org. That’s right OpenOffice.org compatibility, not Open Document Format compatibility (I just simply don’t know on what extent OO.org interpretation of ODF is a proper interpretation). It’s the case that I have lots of files saved in OO.org format, which are properly interpreted by Open Office and it’s quite understandable, that I want to view and edit them using the new suite.

Testing results were quite positive for Lotus (it was a little surprise for me). Lotus viewed most of the tested documents (text documents and presentations) correctly. Documents had a little visual differences, but — and this is crucial for me — files created using Writer and then saved in Lotus, were identical after reopening them on OpenOffice Writer. You cannot say this about other products like Abiword or KOffice. In case of more sophisticated ODF files some changes appeared, but this was probably the fault of different engines for rendering used by Lotus and OO.org (probably Lotus is based on OpenOffice.org 1.1 engine). The reason for this might be also non-professional preparing of the tested files.

Symphony vs OpenOffice, round 1

Symphony vs OpenOffice, round 2

Symphony vs OpenOffice, round 3


Unfortunately efficiency is the Achilles’ heel of Lotus Symphony. It opens ODF files much slower than OpenOffice.org. Simple document was loaded in few seconds while Open Office needed for this only a split second. In case of more sophisticated documents the situation is getting more and more worse.

As for fastness and responsiveness of the application we have similar situation. You can observe this during such simple action, like switching between main menu items. Lotus have to “work hard” at each item and we can notice serious delays. It is quite odd, if we take for consideration the fact, that Lotus is based on OpenOffice.org 1.1 and Eclipse (maybe those applications are not so fast, but their efficiency is much more better than in case of Lotus).

Luckily text editor works quite well (if we don’t use menu very often :P ), and its efficiency is comparable with other products.


IBM decided to impress users by completely redesigned interface. However, when using Lotus you just start to wonder if its really an implementation of a project or its a side effect of programmers’ work. But we should admit that some ideas, that appeared in Symphony, are quite interesting and useful (at least potentially).

Side bar

At the firs glance what pays attention is the side bar. It is available by default on the right side of edited document. It contains all options needed to edit a text (choosing a font, effects or positioning). Toolbar can also contain options of paragraph editing (if you choose this view option). After picking an object in the document, its properties appear automatically in the side bar. At least this is what a theory says. Unfortunately for most of the objects this function (which seems to be very useful) is not available yet (as you may read on the side bar notice).

Search My Computer

I leave this dialogue box without any comments :)

Main menu

Well… we have to deal with the great imagination of programmers in this case. We don’t find many options commonly used in MS Office or OpenOffice.org. Here are interesting differences:

  • Menu Insert was substituted by Create. For what reason, I truly don’t have any idea :)
  • Menu Format doesn’t exist, instead we have Layout, which is situated two items to right from usual localisation known from OpenOffice.org. Comment is similar that the one above.
  • You shouldn’t look for “create table” option in Table, it is not there. To use this option we have to choose Create menu. It has probably something to do with caring about users’ physical activity. Each time you want to create table you have to make additional mouse move. In case of Open Office this option is located in both Table and Create menu.
  • Menu Window doesn’t have neither onscreen cloning (in OpenOffice.org known as the New window) nor closing the window option, but we find here one interesting functionality Show Thumbnails (about this one, later in this article).

Generally speaking we have less options than in OO.org here. For example there is no mailing program integration, digital signature support (for OO.org there exist an add-on, not for ODF standard but ISO). I understand that it is a result of projects’ early stage (not a programmers neglect).

One thing is really frustrating. If we use shortcut keys for menu there’s no possibility of leaving menu except mouse clicking on the other part of application’s window. Escape doesn’t work here. I truly hope that this annoying bug will be removed as soon as its possible.

Symphony and thumbnails

Documents’ thumbnails

In menu Window->Show Thumbnails you’ll find show documents’ thumbnails option (Lotus is using screenshots for this). This option seems to be very useful. There’s also a little applet, that enables filtering documents using their names (unfortunately there’s no possibility of filtering using documents’ content). Thumbnails view is experimental for sure — sometimes it has a great problems with displaying, sometimes it displays an older version of the document — it seems like a kind of cache mechanism is implemented here. Concluding, its a really great option, but it needs working out for sure.


One may say — at least! Efforts to make OpenOffice.org to implement this function were ineffective, but finally IBM programmers did it. Tabs are really the thing that makes work easier. It is the fact well known to Firefox and Opera users (this counts also for other programs with this function implemented like Eclipse, Kate, Gedit and many others). We have tabs in Lotus also. Those tabs work for whole office suite, so you can use it for spreadsheets, presentations and text documents. The only thing that lacks here is the possibility to fast and easy switch between tabs. None of standard shortcuts had worked here. Maybe this function has been not implemented yet (or I haven’t search long enough).

Final remarks

Lotus Symphony is a really interesting initiative. There’s a great need of competition on the office suites (especially those that support the ODF format) market. Current situation bears a danger of OpenOffice.org programmers resting on their laurels. In comparison to KOffice or Abiword (both can compete with OO.org on the efficiency and better graphical environments like GNOME and KDE cooperation fields) Lotus Symphony has nothing to impress us (except of few little functions). It works much slower than its competitors, it displays fonts very badly and what’s more it is not a free software. I’ll be glad to test following versions of this program because I am interested in its development process. I’d like to know if it is possible that Lotus will become a real competitor of OO.org. My advice for this stage of Lotus Symphony project is to keep your computers away of it, unless you want to do some experiments with this software.

More about Lotus Symphony

About the Author

Borys Musielak

PolishLinux.org creator and editor in chief. Professionally -- J2EE consultant in London City. Personally -- free software enthusiast and lobbyist.

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