The runup to the release of IBM’s (news, site) LotusLive Symphony has been a long one and we’re still no closer to being offered a release date other than sometime in the second half of 2011. However, Big Blue has been working on the project, and has now released its third technical preview of the product.
That in itself is a relief, in that we know that progress is being made. For IBM, this is an important product because it gives IBM a place in the hosted office productivity space that is becoming more crowded.
Office Productivity Suites
Only this week, for example, LibreOffice, the second prong of the original fork from OpenOffice.org, released a version that is suitable for enterprise use, while Google Docs has been given a makeover.
But IBM doesn’t appear all that worried about that, and has progressed LotusLive Symphony is its usual methodical fashion since it first starting talking about it publicly in January of this year.
At that point, it wasn’t even clear how closely it would resemble LotusLive, but over the months, details have been slipping out through different technical versions, the latest of which is the one released this week, Technical Preview 3.
LotusLive Symphony is still in the Lotus Greenhouse (where you preview new Lotus technologies) and the release date is still the second half of 2011.
IBM has kept close to its original ambition of providing a product that focuses on collaborative documents, including real-time co-editing, tasks and assignments, sectioning and versioning.
The cloud-based service will specifically offer team creation, editing and review of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. LotusLive requires only a browser and a LotusLive account.
Available free of charge, it supports Windows, Linux and the Mac OS and, in this technical release, brings the project significantly forward in terms of capabilities and ease of use.
It supports user profiles and use case scenarios that do not need the power of a rich client. The intent with LotusLive Symphony, Big Blue says, is not to build another web editor or to "put Symphony on the web," but to re-examine how users can work on content more effectively.
The driving principle, then, is to treat documents not as whole and static, but rather containers of live content sections. This allows LotusLive Symphony to support versioning, task assignment and collaborative authoring at sections within the document vs. just applied to the document as a whole.
LotusLive Symphony: Building templates
But all the vendors of all the productivity suites say that about their products. In this Tech 3 release, there are dozens of new capabilities, all of which we can’t list here, but some notable ones include:
- Text box and rich text/bullet editing support
- Support of table in slide
- Ability to Insert image
- Ability to resize image by drag and drop
- Ability to sort in a selected range of cells
- Support merge/split cells in a row
- Ability to hide/show single/multiple rows
- Ability to auto fill cell content and formula cell by drag and drop
- Support of rich style numbering/bullet of ODF document
- Collaboration features
- A collaboration sidebar to manage comments, task and editors
- Support of workflow of section review and assignment, such as reassign, reject and rework in document editor
- Ability to select existing activity for section assignment
- Providing a history of section assignment through Connections Activities
Important to keep in mind, of course, is the fact that this is an ongoing project and the numerous other capabilites had been introduced in previous technical versions. Grouped collectively they included:
- Co-edit with colleagues: Enables users to simultaneously edit a document with other contributors, greatly improving the simplicity and efficiency by which teams build documents
- Comment and discuss in context: Commenting and discussion services allow “conversations” to take place inside the document and in context
- Assign sections to team members: Enable the assignment of sections to own and complete by work group members; Tech 3 also offers light workflow for due dates, review and approve/re-work
- Build smart tables: Build intuitive tables to help organize data sets; drill down and analyze, or pivot, on certain criteria to get a clear view
And there’s a lot more than that. Interesting as the product is in itself, from an industry point of bview what will probably be of even greater interest is whether, how and to what degree it will affect Office Web Apps, and, by extension, Office 365. Again, there’s no date for this year, but if you're interested, you can download it.