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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lotus Symphony 3 for Mac review

With the elimination of AppleWorks 6 from Macs, you may have wondered what office suite you could run in its absence. Apple wants you to run iWorks, but you may hesitate at spending $60 for 3 programs you can’t test beforehand. You may have legacy documents, too, that you need to work with.

For that reason, I will present to you two free/donationware programs that can cover your needs for basic word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, vector drawing and databases. Oh, and file conversion.

IBM Lotus Symphony is the first program. IBM resurrected the name “Lotus Symphony” from a 1980’s era MS-DOS program that also served as a multi-purpose office suite built on top of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. In this case, IBM has taken the 3.0 codebase and reworked it. They put on a new interface that improves on the aging multiple windows interface of OpenOffice and its many derivatives. They have released versions for Windows, OS X 10.7 & 10.8, and Linux.

They have reduced the number of tasks from the plethora that offered. Now you just have the Writer word processor, Calc spreadsheet, Impress presentation software and a simple Web browser derived from Mozilla’s Firefox 3.0. So the codebase lags behind the latest code available. IBM, though, took the time to eradicate bugs and improve the menus and overall interface.

In, you launch a separate window for each document. If you work with a lot of different documents on a project, this leads to a messy window.


By contrast, Symphony uses a tabbed interface. You switch between documents by clicking on them.


IBM provides thorough documentation in its Help file for Symphony. You do not have to fiddle with a PDF file, but use a hyperlinked HTML document that Symphony serves up to your default Web browser. This works great with Safari 6.

Problems with Lotus Symphony

I encountered significant problems in installing Symphony that you may encounter. I overcame these problems.

First off, IBM’s Web site for downloading Symphony is designed for corporate developers. You have to go here to get to the Web site. It’s not an intuitive name

You have to set up an account with a user name (your e-mail address) and a password. You have to manually select which version of Symphony to download, whether for Windows, OS X, or Linux. It’s not friendly one-stop shopping.

By contrast, the Web sites for and LibreOffice provides a one-stop download portal, which can tell which operating system you use and provide the version of OpenOffice/LibreOffice appropriate for your OS.

In IBM’s defense, they think in terms of corporate customers with an emphasis on corporate security over convenience for personal users. And while they do ask for an e-mail address, they do not flood your inbox with junk mail.

Once you do download the program, you’ll find that Symphony does not have a digital signature. OS X 10.8 will flash a warning message about this. Even worse, the installer will fail.

To get around this, you have to go to the Security preference pane to change the preference from “only use programs with a digital developer signature or from the Mac App Store” to “All programs”. Then OS X 10.8 will put a final warning about lessened security. Take the risk in this case.


With the security setting at “Anywhere,” the installer for Symphony will work and you have a full-fledged program!

Unlike OpenOffice/LibreOffice, it will not import WordPerfect documents. The PC Magazine review of Symphony noted this, stating that “Expert users who need to open files in a wide range of formats, including Microsoft Works, Corel WordPerfect, or Lotus WordPro, will prefer LibreOffice, because Lotus Symphony only imports Microsoft Office and documents—but that's all that almost every office environment ever needs.”

Performance of Lotus Symphony

As for performance, the PC Magazine review of Symphony noted that importing a complex Excel spreadsheet did not bring the whole program to a screeching halt. Only the spreadsheet halted, while the word processing and presentation portions continued. In fairness, only Excel could successfully open this complex Excel spreadsheet used for torture-testing non-Excel spreadsheets.

In my simple tests of the presentation portion, it opened the PowerPoint presentations without any problems. It isn’t the fanciest presentation program. If you need to create cutting-edge stuff, you’d use Keynote ’09. If you just want to see funny PowerPoint presentations you get through e-mail, use this.


IBM Lotus Symphony provides an improved version of the 3.0 office suite. IBM improved the overall interface using tabs instead of multiple windows and tightened up the code.

IBM does provide training and templates on-line. It’s just not blindingly obvious where it is. Anyway, go here for training. Go here for templates and clip art.

IBM hasn’t publicized it. PC Magazine referred to it as the best free office suite you’ve probably never heard of and gave it an Excellent rating with an Editor’s Choice.

As for the legacy document formats that I talked about, I’ll cover how to work with them & LibreOffice for Mac in my next post.

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