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IBM takes fight to Microsoft with OpenOffice

Big Blue's version will be called Lotus Symphony

IBM Corp. is to offer the world a free word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program in yet another bid to upset the dominance of Microsoft’s Office suite.

The move sounds ambitious, but Microsoft is unlikely to be trembling in fear just yet — Lotus Symphony, as it will be known, is really just a re-packaging of the OpenOffice suite that has taken only fringe market share from Microsoft, since being taken under the wing of Sun seven years ago.

IBM says it will contribute 35 programmers to the Symphony-cum-OpenOffice development effort, in a bid to spark new interest in a software suite that can trace its ancestry back to a suite called StarOffice, once owned by obscure German company, Star. IBM hopes its much larger corporate presence will generate more success this time.

“IBM is very pleased to be joining the OpenOffice.org community. We are very optimistic that IBM’s contribution of technology and engineering resources will provide tangible benefits to the community membership and to users of OpenOffice.org technology around the world,” said Mike Rhodin, of IBM’s Lotus Division.

IBM has been here before. In 1995, it paid US$3.5 billion for Lotus Development, complete with its suite of high-regarded office applications, only for those programs to fall of the map completely as it focused on selling the OS/2 groupware, Lotus Notes, in a nice twist itself once a creation of current Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie.

OpenOffice has launched version 2.3 just of its suite bang on cue for IBM’s endorsement.