back to article IBM 'advises' staff to opt for a Microsoft Office-free world

Big Blue’s 20,000-strong techies have been advised to ditch Microsoft Office and use open standards software such as Lotus Symphony instead. IBM chief information officer Mark Hennessey and veep Gina Poole issued a memo yesterday urging the firm’s staff to take “a new, more integrated approach to desktop productivity software …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    That's a worry

    IBM are having to try to push an IBM product onto it's staff. Blimey that must be some kickback MS offer or is Smypathy that bad?

  2. Serrio


    “I know a smart business decision when I see one – choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” said Kroes. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

    But they should be ALLOWED to make a choice, rather than have it made for them by someone else "For their own good"

  3. Victor


    what about promoting

  4. Steve

    Only now?

    Wow - I'm amazed that IBM have been using Microsoft Office for this long! Thought they would have been using OO for while or Symphony as they brought Lotus in 95....

  5. Dave Ashton

    Lotus Symphony

    Loosely based on OpenOffice 1.0. And badly so. Its an awful product. Stick with just OpenOffice.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An anonymous IBM coward

    I'm one of the '20,000' strong techies and I certainly never got this memo and in fact, I've received two calendar invites in the last month where they were going to use NetMeeting and not Lotus Unyte, or whatever the hell we're calling our on-line meeting software these days.

    Of more interest, really, is that there *is* an official program, called the 'Optional Workstation Refresh Program' (U.S. only at this point), that allows employees to buy discounted Mac gear as a substitute for their Thinkpad, which in 2 years becomes their personal property; this program has existed for Thinkpads for sometime.

    Personally, having switched to the Mac, I'm already a long-way toward an "Office-free world." :-)

  7. Rick Eastwood

    Why use Office in most circumstances

    I just can't see any reason for the full Office suite any more in most circumstances. How many people actually get full benefit of the several hundred pound price tag ?

    Google docs is free, Symphony is free, Open Office is free. The later two also give you full control of the data whereas who knows what's happening within the google farm ?

    Yes I know about high end VBA scripting and I dont know how much of this you can do with Symphony or Open Office but how many people actually use these day to day other than for critical apps ?

    I just think MS must be getting very very nervous that their glorious cash cow's udders might be starting to leak just a little bit.

  8. Jamie

    Somewhere over the rainbow???

    A better title would be:

    What a wonderful world

  9. Rob Elliott
    Paris Hilton


    Standards are worthless if nobody uses them, I hate doing it but everytime I send a document I convert it from ODF to a MS Format because the fact is most end users wouldn't even know what to do with the ODF... They'd probably ignore it like my HR Department.

    The fact is that the Microsoft Office formats are what everybody uses. Which is a shame.

    Paris, because she is about as intelligent as my MS Office using HR Department.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    IBM save $ through Symphony

    Im one of these 20000 techies, and as IBM had a bumper year (Best since circa 2000) we are getting double digit pay rises, so I wil gladly swap Microsoft if it saves the company money and puts more dosh in my pocket.

    Pity the other companies dont see it that way eh ;)

    (Posted anonymously as perhaps some of the above has been 'marketing')

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Another "anonymous IBM coward"

    @Stu Reeves & @Steve: We use what our customers demand when we do work with/for them. Open Office is good at reading/writing to MS proprietary formats, but it's not perfect. If the customer wants to work in proprietary Office formats then that's what we do.

    Personally, I've been happily running Linux with OpenOffice on my Thinkpad for quite some time now. I've needed Windows once (for an external web-conferencing system) in the last year or so. Life is good.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    As someone on the inside...

    ... It's news to me!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo


    Say what you want about MS, but at the end of the day if I am having problems with a bit of their software I can always call them up, and the do make an effort to get it fixed, and I have yet to be charged for it (even though their website says I may be).

    With an open format, if I have a problem, I can post something on a forum and hope someone gets back to me maybe.

    Economics 101 teaches you about something called opportunity cost. You get what you pay for. TANSTAAFL

  14. Richard Gadsden
    Gates Horns

    Who uses VBA scripting?

    Is a good question. Anyone who has ever tried doing a legal contract with automatic numbering - and with all the insanities that lawyers put into contracts - will appreciate why most decent-sized law firms have a suite of VBA code that manages Word's paragraph numbering for you.

    OpenOffice's numbering is nothing like powerful enough. I can't comment on Symphony, but SmartSuite wasn't up to the mark either last time I looked; WordPerfect is, which is why so many lawyers still use it.

  15. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    Office format?

    If you are sending a client a document then why on earth would you want to send it in an editable form. Surely that is where PDF is jumping up and down trying to be noticed, controls the formatting and content of the doc and PDF readers (OK I'll say it...Adobe) are surely even more prevelant that MSOffice, especially since you may not know which version of MSOffice they play with.

  16. dervheid
    Thumb Down

    @ Standards

    All too true.

    All the clients of the consultancy I do work for use Office, so it's all gotta be that way. The only time it ain't, is if something gets changed into a locked-down pdf so's it can't get altered.

    It's THIS 'monopoly' that's MS's biggest 'asset' now.

    The 'windows' can be broken (frequently are anyway!), but the 'office' stays safe, for now anyway.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Erm, what memo?

    As another one of the 20000, I haven't received the memo either and as for the anonymous coward above touting double digit pay rises, he's obviously privy to more information than the rest of us (but I do hope he's right).


    Use of standards

    I often see the argument along the lines of.

    "We hate Microsoft and Open Office has the best market share. We should stick it to them by only sending our documents out in ODF. Then when people get it they have to download OO to read it. Muhahahaha!"

    This argument is wrong because MS users will just delete your document. Firstly because they don't want to download it and even if they did they probably don't have install rights from IT. Secondly, on principle because your a dick.

    However, why not just use PDF instead (although not open, it is an ISO standard and most if not all office users can open it on their PC).

  19. Rob Willett
    Paris Hilton

    Not in the UK

    I've in the UK and have not received any memo from IBM advising me to use anything else but Office.

    As an exercise I just uploaded a 201 page contract I'm working on into Open Office and had a look at it. Mmm....looks nothing like the Word document I'm working on. The equivalent Track Changes in Open Office doesn't seem to work as well (not that Track Changes in Office is anything to write home about), table layout is a mess as well as how landscape/portrait handling is displayed. I've no doubt that Open Office would be able to do what we wanted if we had started using it from the outset, but it's not up to importing complex word docs and thats the problem. Whilst most of the world + dog have docs stored in whatever proprietry Office doc they use, they still need Office or some version of it.

    One day we might be able to dump that bloated hog that is office, but not yet.

    Paris as she's as much idea about formatting Office as OpenOffice has

  20. Geoff Mackenzie

    Open formats

    I will not send MS Office files, even (especially?) where they are specifically requested.

    I don't open MS Office files either - if someone really wants to communicate with me they should be happy enough to send me a Postscript, PDF, plain text, HTML, DVI, ODF (or virtually any other format) file, surely?

    Unfortunately I do have to make an exception at work because everyone uses MS Office here and I don't want to be an awkward bastard...

  21. Anonymous Coward

    OO Bloatware

    I've used a bunch of different word processors all the way back to pre-SGML.

    Word is, sadly, superior to OO, and uses much less resource on a Windows machine (and OO is still bloaty on Linux, where I use OO mostly since it is free, and certainly good enough). OO is way to much of a memory hog on Windows, as bad as the bloatware SameTime Connect 7.x.

    Lotass? Word processor? You have got to be kidding. A surprising number of people still stagger around using Lotus Word Pro (long dead) though-- never heard of these other Lotass products, "Lotus" and "works correctly" do not fit in the same sentence. After 15 years of (now mostly Indians) working on Gerstner's Folly, Lotass email almost works most of the time if you ignore stupid design decisions made by Ozzie (now destroying MicroSoft after bombing with Groove. Somehow Ozzie will come out richer, but everyone near him will be poorer-- a financial Fatal Attractor, good work if you can get it though). Lotass email might actually enhance productivity once the last of the old Lotus emps die/retire/quit/getlayedoff and the mind numbingly bad design decisions can be reversed.

  22. KenBW2
    Thumb Up

    Easy solution

    Who can't read an HTML file :)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One thing in favour of Excel

    Pivot tables.

    The OpenOffice equivalent wasn't compatible last time I looked and not anywhere near as good.

  24. hans

    20000 techies

    Its not the UK/Europe or US then, India perhaps? And then probably for internal comms only.

    We have a free web enabled processor anyway Writeley by google, look how that set the world on fire.

    As for the formats not doing what M$ does, legal?

  25. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


    I was in IBM 12 years ago, and at that time, it was OS/2 and Lotus SmartSuite that came loaded automatically on any Wintel system. If you wanted Windows and Office, you had to have a really good business case, and Office on OS/2 was not really well supported (probably due to Microsoft using secret API calls when running on Windows).

    When OS/2 fell out of grace at IBM, there was a time when SmartSuite on Windows was tried, but as most of IBM's customers were Office users, document exchange became a problem (there were SmartSuite filters to open and write Office formats, but they were not included by default, and were not 100% effective). There became a straight choice for users between SmartSuite and Office, and Office won, like in the rest of the world.

    IBM then tried to make SmartSuite (and Lotus Notes client, the Email part of Notes) more popular with a giveaway program on magazine cover disks, but that did not work either, so the package died, albeit a slow, lingering death.

    So for about 10 years, IBM has been using exclusively Office, buying corporate licenses at whatever cost Microsoft felt like charging them.

    If IBM can make even some of their own users give up Office, so that a smaller license fee needs paying, then they can only gain. And with ODF being a hot topic at the moment, it gives the possibility of some free news space. Not sure how the targeted users will react, however.

    I avoided Office, using SmartSuite after I left IBM, and switched to StarOffice and then OpenOffice when I decided to use Linux as my primary OS (I'm a Unix consultant). And now, when I have to use Office as part of my work on client provided systems, you cannot imagine how annoying and difficult I find it. The lack of any common sense in things like font handling, and styles when cutting and pasting between documents, everything moving around when new releases come out, and some very strange behavior when trying to adjust complex numbered lists just astound me. I could list at least 50 things that I cannot stand. Quite how the software passes ergonomic testing escapes me.

    So I think that IBMers should embrace a move from Office. Let's break Microsoft's monopoly. Of course, I would actually like to move back to Memorandum Macros and Troff, or possibly LaTeX for documents, and who needs spreadsheets anyway!

  26. Anonymous Coward

    only problem with OO

    Is that the newer MS shite make sure to create a file format OO won't read. Curse those non-standard MS formats.

  27. Charles Manning

    Who sends out documents anyway?

    In general there is very little reason to send out editable docs (*.doc, *.odf etc). Most of the time it is better to send a pdf, which is very easy to generate from OO etc.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    PDF's are editable you idiots

    there are many tools that make a PDF into and editable format

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Works for IBM?

    > Im one of these 20000 techies, and as IBM had a bumper year (Best since circa 2000) we are getting double digit pay rises

    You don't work for IBM then....oh, and IBM has 380,000 staff and around 60-70% are techies at last count.

  30. David Heffernan

    IBM leads the way with Open Standards

    “I know a smart business decision when I see one – choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” said Kroes. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

    I guess that means IBM will no longer encourage people to use: AIX, Rational, DB2, Notes/Domino, WebSphere etc.

  31. Mark Rendle

    MS Office is *just better*

    It is. It's better for collaborative working, with the integration with SharePoint and InfoPath. It's better for developers, with Visual Studio Tools for Office. I've yet to try a group e-mail/calendar/contact manager that comes anywhere near Outlook running against Exchange. And then there's OneNote, Project, Visio, etc, all of which integrate with the core products very well.

    Most importantly, Office 2003 and 2007 both just feel more polished than OpenOffice and its derivatives. Maybe it's because they're targeting a specific OS, rather than adopting that lowest-common-denominator GUI of apps that run on Windows, Mac, KDE, Gnome. Maybe it's because it's a more coordinated development effort, with proper product managers and UX specialists.

    It's not just Microsoft, of course; look at Adobe's products versus the open source alternatives (Photoshop or GIMP? I know which I'd rather use). On the desktop, at least, the bazaar still has to do some catching up with the cathedral.

    Still no penguin-with-horns icon, I see...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @David Heffernan

    Unlike Microsoft, IBM does indeed get involved in creating and promoting open standards, and incorporates support for these standards into pretty much all of it's products.

    In fact I think you'd be hard pressed to find a software open standard from the last 10 years that IBM hasn't been involved in, in some manner (and isn't still involved in for that matter).

    IBM expends an enormous amount of effort on making sure it's products use open standards to make it's software works with the multitudes of third party applications used in the market (many direct competitors to IBMs own offerings). Rather than IBM losing business because of this, they actually win business because of this.

    Disclosure: I'm one of the IBM plebs making sure our software works with all those third party applications and have daily exposure to open standards that IBM has initiated, and continues to promote and support

  33. Anonymous Coward

    News to me!

    I am a "techie" IBMer in the UK, and this is news to me. I must have also missed the press release about sacking 350,000 employees because last time I bothered looking I think there were about 370,000 of us, not 20,000!

    The issue we are facing is the problem of format compatibility. You can certainly open and read .doc files fine, but if you want to send a polished and professional document to a client, no way in hell would you use open office to generate it! I noted that someone mentioned using PDF files above and this is a good alternative but can sometimes backfire slightly depending on the client relationship. If you send a client a read-only document (yes I know it can be edited if you really want), you run the risk of coming across as if somehow they cannot be trusted to have a mighty IBM-generated document which they might have the temerity to edit etc etc. Extreme example I know, but Office is so ingrained people start asking questions when you don't use it...

    Maybe in a few more years we'll have a nice ODF compatibility on everything and we can finally put this to bed.

  34. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @Mark Rendell

    It's funny, all the collaborative things you mention were pretty much invented by IBM. The document sharing, mail, and shared calender features were first seen in the PROFS, or NOSS internal office system that IBM used. At the time, it was all done on mainframes and 3270 terminals, but it eventually was ported to OS/2. I'm talking about a product (the mainframe version) that existed BEFORE PCs were actually made.

    It's funny that it took a long time for some of the features to appear in Lotus Notes, which was supposed to replace PROFS. But I think that most things now appear in Domino, when used with an up-to-date Notes client. The problem is that most people see Notes as just a quirky mail client, rather than the revolutionary collaborative tool and application platform that it actually was and is. But I will admit that Notes used to wind me up when the replication I asked for didn't happen, leaving all my outgoing mail stuck on my Thinkpad.

  35. Jack Fuller

    Ah, PROFS!

    3270 = thin client. Mainframe = "Cloud". History is repeating itself!

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Anonymous non-spokesperson

    I don't feel like a coward--but I am certainly not authorized to speak on behalf of the company... My concern is that I have to be very careful not to say anything that is not public knowledge, and in being "very careful" it's hard to say much.

    Anyway, the key points to me are freedom and competition. The freedom means that we have real choice, and the competition means that we will have real improvements. Microsoft's version of freedom is that they are willing to offer a couple of versions, but they want all of those versions to be Microsoft products. Microsoft wants to control document standards to make it impossible for other companies to offer alternative implementations. In contrast, ODF is about real freedom with a structured framework for data compatibility.

    I admit that I don't much like the current version of Symphony, but it is substantially different from Open Office, and I have a real choice there. The users are going to decide which products they like best, and I think that's fundamentally a good thing. Within ODF, your data is not the hostage.

    The Penguin is because I mostly use Symphony within Linux, but I'm not going to reveal how many distros we support internally... I'd like to say how much of my own work I do on Linux platforms, but that's another one I better let pass... Please contact a local sales representative.

  37. Jack Fuller

    Ah, good ol' PROFS

    3270 = Thin client. Mainframe = The Cloud. History is repeating itself!

  38. Gulfie

    The key word is OPEN

    Of course, if Microsof implemented the existing ODF open standard in Office then there would be no issue opening an ODF document in Word, or a document written using Word and saved in ODF format in OpenOffice or any other Office suite supporting ODF.

    Bottom line, it is NOT in Microsoft's interest to implement an ODF interface, adaptor, call it whatever you will, because it simply allows people to opt to not buy Office.

    Alternatively they could at least finish their own 'open' standard so that it was at least complete - currently there are holes - so that the open source community can then implement document readers/writers/converters. But again, this only promotes choice to the user - not good for M$

    Best thing people (and big business) can do is to tell Microsoft they will only purchase or upgrade once a truly open format is supported.

  39. James Anderson Silver badge

    @Rob Willett

    " .. its not up to importing complex word documents ... "

    But niether is Word 2007!

    As well as hiding obsucre little used functions like "save" and "insert" in an unfathomable new menu system, they have broken "cut" and "paste" if you cut form a "2003" doc into a "2007" doc the formatting goes crazy.

    More bizzarly cutting from a spreadsheet into a word document which worked perfectly in "2003" loses half your text in "2007".

    Sod downgrading Vista to XP -- how can I get a copy of Office 2003 on to my Vista box?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OpenOffice is good enough

    As an ex Sun Micro employee during the era of the Micro$oft war, I worked in an environment where there was no windows product anywhere in the coprporation (almost). The rule was applix then StarOffice on desktop solaris, with a side helping of Lotus Smartsuite for special exceptions. OpenOffice was good enough then for a $12 bn corporation - there was no pressure for Office other than from recruitment consultants sending me resumes in .doc format, so big advantage to OO !!

    It's whatever you're used to. Now forced to use Office at work, I can't wait to get things done at home quicker (for me) on OO

  41. Rob Booth
    Gates Halo


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