The Office business suite (opens in new tab) is one of Microsoft's biggest cash cow, earning the company roughly USD 15 bn per year both from consumers and businesses. It is also one of Microsoft's most reliable and predictable source of revenue. Anything that can hurt Office will hurt Microsoft and its share prices.
So one has to take heed when IBM announces that it is going to ramp up the development of Lotus Symphony, its free Open Source based operating system.
IBM does not get direct revenues from Symphony and some might even say that it competes directly with IBM's own Lotus (opens in new tab) Smartsuite.
But the truth is that Smartsuite is a dead man walking. It hasn't been updated since 2002 and is not natively Windows Vista compatible.
IBM has all but removed life support from Smartsuite, it doesn't bring in much revenues - Lotus Smartsuite 9.8 (opens in new tab)costs around £15 on Ebay and there's not much interest in it even on Torrent Sites - and there's apparently no real political ambition to make it a potent rival to Office 2007.
Instead, IBM is betting on the OpenOffice.org (opens in new tab) business suite. Using its experience gathered with Linux and the Open Source movement, IBM is investing more time and money in Lotus Symphony.
Since the release of Beta 1 on the 18th September, nearly 5000 copies have been downloaded daily with the bulk running on Windows XP/Vista and the rest on a range of Linux platforms.
IBM is saying that it will release new betas every six to eight months (that roughly 6 to 9 betas a year) and will release a Mac version as well plus support for 23 languages.
It is unknown whether IBM Lotus Smartsuite users will be encourage to move to Lotus Symphony and whether IBM plans to bring more modules to Symphony, like Approach or Organiser or whether there's an online version in the pipeline.
Whatever the motivation behind Mighty Big Blue move, one can only welcome this kind of competition to challenge Microsoft stronghold.