IBM has just announced its latest release of Lotus Symphony, it’s open source alternative to Microsoft Office.  Lotus Symphony is based on OpenOffice.org Technology and supports the ODF standard, ISO 26300.  The suite includes OpenOffice-style word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications creatively named “Documents”, “Spreadsheets”, and “Presentations”. (I’ll not add the word “respectively” here since you can probably figure out which apps do what).

This release is announced in time to coincide with a recent court ruling that orders Microsoft to pull all Office 2003 and 2007 products from store shelves.  Microsoft is battling a patent infringement case brought by Toronto-based i4i over XML file formats. The 2007 case resulted in a $290 million judgment against Microsoft and an injunction that bars it from selling Word 2003 and Word 2007 after Oct. 10 unless the offending technology is removed.

IBM plans to release Symphony 2.0 in 2010, the same time frame in which Microsoft plans the next version of Office. Code named Vienna, the Symphony 2.0 software will be based on the most recent version of Open Office and integrates nicely with IBM Lotus Domino and the Lotus Notes client.

Granted there is no compelling reason to move to Symphony (vs. Open Office) unless you are also a Domino/Notes based enterprise, but the question still remains as to why it has been so difficult to get companies, schools and other organizations to adopt open-source technology for their Office applications. Paradoxically, inertia and momentum seem to drive this market in their own ways.  I guess when you have 90% market share, inertia is your friend.  But our schools are still teaching Microsoft Office almost exclusively thus providing the momentum for perpetuating the status quo.

At this point in the evolution of these products, it’s very hard to see the business case for using MS Office instead of an open-source alternative. Last year, IBM said it would provide unlimited remote support for up to 20,000 Symphony users for a flat fee of $25,000/year.  By comparison, an enterprise agreement to license Office for the same number of users would cost $3.1 million a year, before any discounts (source Network World).  So what’s stopping us people?