IBM Lotus Symphony Beta review

Lotus Symphony is a venerable brand in the world of office suites, but this version’s user interface is completely new, built with Eclipse. The meat of the code is a cut-down version of OpenOffice (web ID: 80012).

The user interface is consistent for all documents, whether word processing, presentations or spreadsheets, with the varying types appearing as tabs. Under the tabs is a row of toolbars, which change depending on document type. A sidebar sets properties for the current object.

In the word processor, Symphony constantly suggests the word you’re typing, expecting you to press Enter to accept its suggestion. This can be disabled, but the spellchecker is permanent: words are underlined before you’ve finished them. Some text appears bold, regardless of the styling chosen. This is beta software, so it’s possible its rendering problems will be fixed, but IBM isn’t giving any indication when.

The presentations module includes 19 somewhat tired templates. Creating a new page means going through yet another dialog to name it and choose its layout. With still more dialog boxes to set transitions and animations, making professional presentations can be hard.

The spreadsheets component is reasonable, but again inconsistent. You can set the shadow on a cell from the sidebar, but not its border. That involves, yet again, a separate dialog box. Charting is slow on all but the simplest examples.

The major ideas in the UI are good but the implementation patchy: a big Open button creates new documents rather than opening existing ones. Some traditional elements are equally confusing. File | Open doesn’t need yet another menu level containing a single item: “File…”.

A confusing UI and too many dialog boxes make Symphony harder to use than it should be. It’s free, but so is OpenOffice, which is significantly easier to use.

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