Friday, October 17, 2008

Okay so Symphony is FREE but is it GOOD?

I'll start right off with what I don't like about Symphony, and get that out of the way first.

Symphony TAKES TOO LONG to load!
It needs between 15 to 40 seconds in a 'cold' start before you finally see the first page! Compare that to the 5 or so seconds it takes Office to load, it makes you wonder just what on earth is churning in this Eclipse-built application!

The warm start (i.e. opening a 2nd document after you've already launched the app) is much better at around 6 seconds. Its still a couple of seconds slower than Office, but at least its less noticeable.

If you can live with the wait, then read on, as the rest are mostly on things I quite like about this sluggish beast!

1) Installation was a breeze!
  • The installer comes packaged as a single file. Its hefty, at 201mb, but then this is an office suite afterall, and takes surprising little time to install.
  • Having everything in a single file also makes the distribution of this software a simple matter of copying into a CD or thumbdrive. With ADSL, it is also a practical size to download from the net.
  • No CD Keys to remember or loose -- remember, this is freeware that can be used both at home or in the office

2) All 3 apps in one integrated platform
  • You don't have to bother with opening multiple applications as a single program opens all your Word, Excel and Powerpoint file.
  • Each document appears as easily accessible tabs, much like the tabs in Firefox.
  • Working on multiple documents and sharing data between docs now become easier with all features in one view.

3) Nifty properties bar easily accessible
  • I liked that there is a context sensitive bar on the right that shows me the properties of whatever object I am working on. It saves me time of not having to right-click and select format.
  • Having all the pertinent information visible takes the guesswork out of formatting a document.
  • Of course if you don't like it, and don't want it hogging too much screen real estate, you can easily collapse or make it go away totally!

4) Re-creates as much as possible the feel of Office
  • The main thing for me is that it uses the same Excel formula format. And in my tests, the data does seem to render quite nicely, although some of the more complex formatting did run a bit!
  • This means you avoid steep learning curves and loss of productivity as you'd intuitively use this as you would Office.
  • It actually does better than Office by giving a rather pleasant looking interface with some nice design touches!

5) Its OPEN!

  • As in open standards -- as it supports the Open Document Format.
  • MS Office may be pervasive and is the de facto format, but it is still proprietary.
  • Not only does it support ODF, the application itself is also open. You can enhance its features with FREE plug-ins that you can download and install. And best of all, the plug-ins don't just come from Lotus. 3rd party developers can also build plug-ins for Symphony.

So is this the product for you?
  • Its not for everybody -- at least not quite yet.
  • If you are a hardcore Office user who use its features heavily, you can forget about Symphony for the time being.
  • If you have always only used Viewers for Word etc... then this is YOUR TOOL.
  • If you are looking to also do some basic editing of Office docs, and be able to do it FOC AND LEGALLY, then you should seriously have a look.
  • If you're a company looking to deploy lots of PCs to your users, but don't intend to fork out big bucks for Enterprise Licensing, then YES go for Symphony! (your power users can still buy their Office)
Net of it, I think, is this -- you've got absolutely nothing to loose from using this software. Fully installed, it takes up only a paltry 380mb. If you use it and hate it, leave it there just in case. If you love it, well even better!!

I for one will be leaving it in my machine. Its V1.1 today, and with the amount of enhancements planned, I can surely look forward to even better features in the future.

Find out more and download from the from Lotus Symphony website.

Add free upgrades and soup-up Symphony.

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