IBM recently introduced Lotus Symphony, a free office suite to compete against Microsoft Office. Here’s the debut of the original Lotus Symphony over 24 years ago.


Back when Lotus was an independent company, its main product was Lotus 123. This was the spreadsheet program that was declared to be the “Killer App” for the IBM PC. The problem was that after a few years, and before the introduction of Notes, Lotus was starting to look like a one-trick pony. The only thing they seemed to be able to sell was spreadsheet programs.

That’s where Lotus Symphony came in. In an era before office suite programs, you bought individual applications. You didn’t purchase an entire package that included software you may or may not use often. Until Microsoft Office came along, if you wanted a spreadsheet, you bought Lotus 123. If you wanted a word processor, you probably bought WordPerfect. Dbase probably would have been your database program. Harvard Graphics would probably have been your presentation software if you had any.

Lotus tried to sell an integrated package called Symphony that brought all those different programs together. Symphony included a word processor, charting program, database program, and a communication program along with a stripped-down version of 123.

The only problem was that Symphony applications weren’t as powerful as the stand-alone applications that people had become accustomed to. Even though the applications worked together fairly well, in the early 80s people didn’t care too much about that. Because the machines were all DOS based, users single-tasked as well, concentrating on each application and that’s it.

Symphony quickly fell by the wayside. The entry-level do-it-all program of choice wound up becoming Microsoft Works. On the high end, Lotus 123 remained popular until Windows 95 hit the scene. Eventually, although Lotus did manage to come up with another revenue stream in the form of Notes, IBM purchased Lotus in 1995, mostly for Notes. Symphony became abandonware, and Lotus 123 itself is mostly history.

You can see a little bit of what Symphony looked like by checking out the Lotus Symphony Photo Gallery.

Lotus Symphony 2008

IBM decided to revive the Lotus Symphony brand in 2007. Using OpenOffice as the underlying platform and Eclipse as its shell, IBM decided it would be fun to tweak Microsoft by releasing a free Office Suite of its own.

The 2008 edition of Symphony does word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. There isn’t a database component unfortunately. Lotus Symphony runs under Windows or Linux, and there’s a Mac OS X version in the works.

To find out more about the reincarnation of Lotus Symphony, check out these blog posts by Greg Shultz: