My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org

January 23 2012

At Lotusphere2012, IBM made a pretty big announcements around Lotus Symphony. Let's cover them in order of significance, starting with smallest first.

IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0.1 ships

Image:My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org

Some great new features like the Speakers View and the one million row support make this a great point release. Not sure if there will be an overlay install for the Notes client but working on that.

IBM LotusLive Symphony morphs into IBM Docs

Image:My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org

IBM showed off the newly renamed IBM Docs, now in beta on Greenhouse. If you have used web-based editors like Google Docs and Office 365, this will feel a bit familiar. The integration with IBM Smart Cloud Engage / Connections is impressive. But what really got notice was when they demoed a web editor for creating macros inside the web document editors. The demo was a spreadsheet with a button that inserted data and did formatting. The demo was impressive, but the fact the macro language was javascript was even more so. The timeline for release seems summer for the cloud product with on-premises deployments by the end of the year. Even  John C. Dvorak, who rarely writes about IBM, wrote the The Imminent Word Processing Bloodbath covering Google Docs vs. Microsoft 365 and IBM Docs. He missed a bit of the timeline and did not mention Lotus Symphony at well, but I think he captured the coming web editor battle pretty well.

Lotus Symphony Viewers for both iOS and Android are now available

Both of these have been avialable since December, but they got a lot of attention at the show. I was pleasantly suprized that after I downloaded the Symphony viewers to my iPad, I was able to download and open my Speedgeeking presentation and use that for the 12 5 minute pitches on OpenNTF.org. Impressive.

IBM announces full support for Apache OpenOffice.org ... and the end of Lotus Symphony as we know it

Image:My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org

The big news at Lotusphere was that IBM is going to stop developing a stand-alone product known as Lotus Symphony and shift all of the developers to Apache OpenOffice.org. They are working on Apache OpenOffice.org 3.4 and bringing over as much of the Lotus Symphony changes and development back into the core OpenOffice.org code. But the real focus is on Apache OpenOffice.org 4.0, which will get the user interface enhancements that IBM made in the Symphony product. Here is a sample image of what Apache OpenOffice.org might look like:

Image:My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org

As you can see, I highlighted the Symphony sidebar and panel selection vertical stripe that has been added to the traditional OpenOffice.org user interface. I am sure this will change quite a bit before the release later this year (or next) but its a hint at what is to come.

What does this mean for Lotus Symphony? We just got 3.0.1 and I believe except for fix packs for bugs and any security issues that come out, we have seen the last version of Symphony. IBM Lotus Notes 8.5.X will still have an embedded version of Lotus Symphony, but no one at IBM would commit to a future version of the product having a bundled productivity editor. The main reason is that Lotus Symphony was built on top of Eclipse.org and Lotus Expeditor, and that framework is not moving forward with Apache OpenOffice.org.

I asked IBM about the future and one of the things they expect is to have an Apache OpenOffice.org IBM Edition in the Apache OpenOffice.org 4.0 timeframe. The IBM edition will include the base product and plug-ins that provide integration to IBM Connections and IBM SmartCloud. It will also be supported by IBM in some fashion, like Lotus Symphony is supported for Notes customers today. The details are not worked out, but IBM's intention is to include the entire Apache OpenOffice.org product in this package and only add to the product via plug-ins.

So what is the impact of this change? A few thoughts ...

1. IBM is going to save a bunch of money by not having to import bug fixes and changes from open source project. They are going to work directly on the code branch. They will have less control of what makes a release, as the community selects features as they are checked in.
2. IBM has hired five of the original StarOffice employees who were at Sun and then were Oracle employees. Having some of the original blood as part of the IBM team is a great thing.
3. The Lotus Symphony embedded edition is pretty much dead man walking. It won't go away until we get a new version of Notes (something like a Notes 9 which no one has announced), but if you are building Eclipse plug-ins that integrate with Notes and Symphony, stop. They aren't the way forward.
4. We finally got developer nirvana with the Lotus Symphony LotusScript APIs .. but those don't work with the stand-alone version. It would be great if IBM allowed us to use preferences to point to the external version of Symphony for use with the APIs. That would be a great 8.5.4 feature to bridge the upcoming gap.
5. I think this puts Symphony development and integration on a year long hiatus. Why would you invest in something that might not work next year? I realize that is not a huge community and body of work, but it was a great tool.

Open Questions:

1. What is the plan for the Lotus Symphony LotusScript and Java API that we use with the embedded version of Lotus Symphony? Apache OpenOffice.org does not have a very user friendly API today. It uses the UNO (Universal Network Objects) API. I have demoed code that allows Notes to talk to UNO via LotusScript, and it is damn ugly. Apache OpenOffice.org does not have a COM API today and does not register itself as an OLE object. Will IBM work to make the API's work going forward? Enable COM and OLE within Apache OpenOffice.org itself? Let's hope so.
2. IBM Docs is getting a new javascript macro language. Will that work in a future version of Apache OpenOffice.org? What happens when I open that document that I export in Microsoft Office using their ODF document filters? Coexistence needs to be figured out and demonstrated.
3. Will IBM Docs become an document automation server or is it just a consumer tool? Can I use IBM Docs with a web service and do truely headless cloud based document generation? That is where I want to see this go.

Final Thoughts

Overall I am excited and supportive of this direction. IBM Docs is an exciting product and having IBM put full support behind Apache OpenOffice.org is good for the community in the long term. There are a lot of open questions. A developers roadmap that includes this new IBM Docs javascript API and the existing IBM Symphony Java and LotusScript APIs and the very flexible yet ugly UNO APIs. I hope IBM shows leadership and does some dramatic work here. I will show my support of IBM in a couple ways in the coming week. Look for more.

(as you can tell, I heavily borrowed Ed Brill's screens from his IBM - Lotusphere 2012: Messaging and Collaboration Strategy slides on Slideshare.com. I could not find any other published references at this point. Thanks Ed.)

3 Responses to “My thoughts on the Lotusphere2012 announcements around Lotus Symphony and Apache OpenOffice.org”

  1. 1) Juergen Schmidt says:

    Hi John, thanks for this informative blog and I hope some of the things can be addressed in AOO. Just let me correct one tiny detail. OpenOffice and in the future AOO are register as OLE server and have a OLE automation bridge since many years that allow automation of the office via this bridge. Probably with limitation and in the end you use the same UNO API as always. That was one design goal, having one API that is used internal as well as from external. And from all the different supported languages where an UNO language binding is available. By the way a CLI binding is available as well that allows automation for example via C#. I agree that the API is far too complex for many users and often not very intuitive. But I have also got feedback that once the concepts were understood the API is very powerful. But again I agree that there is huge potential for improvements. One missing piece is powerful tooling, documentation and tons of examples that would help users to find the way through the jungle.

  2. 2) John Head says:

    Juergen - thanks for the reply. If there is a true COM/OLE bridge for AOO, where is it? When I go into Notes and look thru the COM/OLE class list, there is nothing listed for AOO. Same with Visual Studio VB and in any of the Office apps Visual Basic editor. Go into the Tools \ References dialog and try to locate AOO? It's not there. That means there is not an accessable COM/OLE API for AOO. And that means I have to use the hacks like this in Notes:

    Set SM=CreateObject("com.sun.star.ServiceManager")

    Set Desktop=SM.createInstance("com.sun.star.frame.Desktop")

    Set WriterApplication=Desktop.loadComponentFromURL("private:factory/swriter","_blank",0,args)

    Set WriterText=WriterApplication.getText()

    Set Cursor=WriterText.createTextCursor()

    Call WriterText.insertString(Cursor,sessiontitle,False)

    Which is basically a hack that allows you to automate the UNO Java API that is there. My customers rejected doing this back before the Symphony LotusScript API came out. It's hard to use, poorly documented, and crashes more often than not.

    If AOO wants to win over the Symphony developers from Notes, it needs a COM API I can use in any VB or LS editor with a clearly design API like the Symphony LS API, and a large amount of documentation and samples. If that does not happen, these customers will go back to using Office.

  3. 3) Finn L Knudsen says:

    Hi John

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I agree that API (and documentation thereof) for the new product stack is very important.

    And that OpenOffice has to come with a Typelib file so early binding and code completion of object methods or properties is possible.

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