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IBM Hooks in Cloud-Based Collaboration with Free Symphony Suite

At its Lotusphere 2011 event this week, IBM debuted a new cloud-based productivity suite called "LotusLive Symphony." The company also revealed some planned improvements to its lineup of social networking tools.

LotusLive Symphony is a collection of services provided by IBM that "complements" IBM's free premises-based productivity suite, Lotus Symphony, which has been downloaded 50 million times, according to IBM's announcement. LotusLive Symphony enables coediting of documents online in real time. Users can store files online and make assignments among authors. This collaboration is enabled by the integration of LotusLive Symphony with IBM's LotusLive services.

The LotusLive Symphony product will be available in the second half of this year. Meanwhile, a test version, or technology preview, can be downloaded at IBM's site here.

IBM said it will expand distribution of its free Lotus Symphony suite in China through Linux distributions. The company is working with Archos, GreatWall PC,  and Red Flag Linux to distribute Lotus Symphony to emerging markets worldwide.

IBM also mentioned some social networking improvements through its LotusLive offerings, which were first introduced in January of 2009.

Plans for hosted mail improvements were announced, integrated with social networking. For instance, IBM unveiled a new in-box capability called "Activity Stream." The Activity Stream space will bring together feeds from social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and SAP, along with an organization's content. IBM's announcement didn't indicate when this capability will be available, but the company said it plans to make it work with "all market leading mobile devices including tablets."

IBM is planning a broad effort to make its hosted social networking apps work with mobile devices. In addition to Activity Stream, IBM plans to integrate its Lotus Sametime instant messaging solution with mobile devices and tablets. Sametime will work with the Apple iPad and iPhone, Google's Android, Nokia devices and RIM's BlackBerry and Playbook, according to IBM's announcement. No timeframe was announced.

IBM also expects to improve its Connections social networking portal to work with Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint. Few details were provided by IBM, but enhanced integration with Microsoft Outlook is planned, along with "full integration to Microsoft SharePoint sites."

Third-party software developers and IBM's partners can tap into open application programming interfaces with a new IBM Social Business Toolkit to create social networking elements. It's not clear from IBM's announcement when this toolkit will be available.

Finally, IBM plans to roll out Domino Utility Server for LotusLive in the first half of this year. The server can be used to access IBM's LotusLive services or it can be used on premises by organizations. Users will be able to access server will be "from IBM Lotus Notes and other client interfaces," according to IBM's announcement.

IBM appears to be moving into a more sophisticated competitive position to address the Microsoft's lead with its premises-installed Microsoft Office productivity suite, Office Web Apps and Office 365 online offerings. Bracing for some sort of game-changing announcement at Lotusphere 2011, Microsoft has been sending out a stream of announcements this month through its unified communications blog about IBM LotusNotes customers switching to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange.

A report issued last year by Gartner found that Microsoft dominates in the business e-mail market. Its closest competitor is Google, with just 1 percent of that market.

Microsoft also holds a lead in the productivity suite market, with 57 percent of enterprises running Office 2007, according to a June 3, 2009 report by Forrester Research, "Enterprise Plans for Productivity Tools: Holding Out for Microsoft Office 2010." Microsoft introduced an Outlook Social Connector in Office 2010 that enables social networking streams.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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