IBM Goes After Office

Big Blue hopes to unseat some of Microsoft's dominance in the office application arena. Today in New York, it announced a suite of Office-like programs called IBM Lotus Symphony. There's just one major difference between Office and the new Symphony suite: Symphony is free.

The free Symphony apps will try to tune out Office heavy-hitters like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These aren't brand new applications developed from the ground-up, though. The IBMers have joined forces with OpenOffice.org. While they've been working together informally for a while, IBM recently announced it was officially becoming part of the OpenOffice consortium. As part of that agreement, Big Blue will dispatch a team of coders to contribute on a regular basis.

IBM isn't the only one trying to grab a piece of the Office pie; Google also competes with Microsoft with its online Google Docs (which just recently unveiled a direct challenge to PowerPoint in the form of Google Presentations). Like Symphony, the Google online apps are based on the same, widely accepted open source format. The OpenDocument format, based on the easily shareable XML, is the secret sauce that could make this whole thing work. Google, Symphony and other open source users ought to easily be able to share documents.

To get anywhere in its efforts to steal a bit of Microsoft's thunder, Symphony will have to work with the Office applications, as will Google. What's that they say about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?

Are you looking for an Office alternative? Do you already run OpenOffice, Google Docs or some other alternative to any of Microsoft's Office applications? If you do, I'd love to hear from you at llow@redmondmag.com.

SAP Ventures Into SaaS
Get ready for acronym soup: SAP is venturing into the realm of SaaS. The renowned enterprise software vendor is making its first line of business management tools available over the Web, thereby staking a huge claim on the relatively nascent area of software as a service.

While SaaS has been around for a while, it's always been dominated by smaller players, especially Salesforce.com. SAP is the first enterprise-class vendor to step in -- although Microsoft has announced its Software Plus Services initiative. More on that once someone can actually explain it to us.

SAP's first strike into SaaS is a management tool targeted toward medium-sized businesses. Code-named A1S, it was unveiled in New York earlier this week. SAP says nearly 100 companies have taken A1S out for a test drive. It also says it's prepared to invest as much as $500 million on final development and testing by the end of 2008, although the product should be available in a full release version by the first quarter of next year.

By jumping into the world of Web-based applications, SAP positions itself against Microsoft and Google, which recently put out its own family of online apps. The Google apps are more for personal and office productivity, while the SAP tools are for larger business management functions, so they probably won't be stepping on each other's toes too much.

How do you feel about SaaS? Are you heading toward a hosted world? Have you dabbled in SaaS, dove right in or left it alone? Let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

Chip Wars, Part Deux
Tech vendors must be getting caught up in the fall television premiere season. There are all sorts of new things coming out. We've got competitors going after Microsoft Office, big guns aiming at SaaS, Intel announcing a new line of high-performance chips that use less power (good news for green computing initiatives) and AMD with the first ever odd-numbered core chip.

Intel's new line of chips, with the slightly cryptic code-name Nehalem (it's the name of a city and river in Oregon), will go as high as eight-core. That's some serious processing power. I can already hear the gamers in the crowd rejoicing.

Intel made this announcement at its twice-yearly tech conference. It couldn't come at a better time -- not because Intel is preaching to the choir at its own conference, but because things are heating up in the pitched battle with AMD.

The day before Intel's conference kicked off, AMD rolled out the first three-core processor, saying the unusual architecture was partially a response to the fact that its quad-core processors hadn't exactly stormed the world. The AMD Phenom, as the new three-way chip is called, should fit in nicely for customers needing more horsepower than a dual-core, but aren't ready to buck up for a quad-core or higher. Look for the Phenom some time in the first quarter of 2008.

This ongoing battle between Intel and AMD can only be good for the rest of us; chips will get more powerful, and hopefully less expensive.

Some of you weighed in a couple of weeks ago on where you stand on the front lines of the chip wars. What about the rest of you? Hanging with the stalwart Intel, or opting for the feisty AMD? Let me process your response at llow@redmondmag.com.

Google Challenger Opens Public Test
A feisty startup from San Francisco has just opened its site to public testing. Hoping to take a bite out of Google's Microsoft-esque lock on Internet searching, Powerset is using a natural-language approach, which could be more appealing than the keyword approach currently used by the Googlers.

The 2-year-old Powerset has licensed the natural-language processing technology it uses, which was actually developed more than 30 years ago within the hallowed halls of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). This approach reads every sentence, rather than just plucking out key words.

Powerset says it's going to invite hundreds to take its site (http://www.powerset.com) for a test drive. That large-scale beta testing should help the company fine-tune its algorithms before its full, official launch some time next year.

Once again, competition is good. How do you search? Google? Yahoo? Something else? What's important to you in a search engine? Find me at llow@redmondmag.com and let me know.

Talk Like a Pirate
Aaaarrr! Those of us in technology are frequently accused of speaking a different language. Well, today, you can legitimately speak a different dialect -- or at least talk funny. Sept.19 is the official Talk Like a Pirate Day. Check out this site for details.

Aaaarrr! Now, if ye'll excuse me, it's time to go and splice the main brace.

Mailbag: Spamming the Spammers, More
Here are more of your thoughts on spammers hiding behind free speech protections -- and some creative ways to punish them:

I think it is just wrong. If I claim that I have a right to free speech, I should not have hidden behind false IP addresses. My suggestion: Let us all send him and his lawyer a lot of unsolicited mails promising him a false product/service that can resolve all legal cases, yet we'll all hide our IP addresses.
-Oladipo

The law should mimic that of the national Do Not Call registry. All unsolicited e-mailers should have to check the national Do Not E-mail registry. For each offence, it's a $500 fine. It won't eliminate it, but it will reduce it drastically.
-Michael

Briefly, I'd like to exchange current U.S. anti-spam laws for one provision: Treat e-mail like other mail, thus subject to the powerful mail fraud statutes. I'd gladly put up with a postage rate increase dedicated to enforcing (e-)mail fraud laws.
-Dave

I agree 100 percent that spam laws are too weak. I, too, am a firm believer in free speech. However, speech to me is spoken words from a human being's voice box and not through my e-mail. People like Jaynes should be put on trial and when, not if, found guilty, should have harsh punishments like the old days. Put them on the side of the road with chains and balls so they can't run and make them work for their keep. I am sick and tied of paying taxes just so the criminals can get college degrees and lie around watching TV.
-Anonymous

Come the digital revolution (I'm still waiting), spammers will be the first ones up against the wall.
-Anonymous

Convicted spammers should be levied a fine of 1 cent per kilobyte of spam sent. They should then be sentenced to a lifetime of eating Hormel Spam as their only source of protein for the rest of their natural lives.
-Eric

I think every spammer should be shipped off to a penal colony on the moon, or something like that.
-John

I would vote for the candidate who champions the death penalty for spammers.
-Jacob

Spam is very bad. I get about 50 spams for every good e-mail. I would like to see all of spammers' IT equiptment taken and a $1 fine for everyone they spam. If I could get a dollar with every spam, I would be rich.
-Mike

A few years ago, I read one of the rulings of higher courts and it clearly explained the freedom of speech privilege. As everything else, it comes with consequences. If anyone says something offensive to another person, they can be prosecuted and put in jail. Jaynes' lawyers, as always, are taking a chance that they come across a judge that wants to make a name for himself, or wants to be famous, or is bored, so he will make a different ruling in Jaynes' favor.

If someone has to hide behind a closed door to do anything, it is a crime. There are Web sites the will send you e-mail, but if you do not want to receive it, you can stop it. Spam is all about tricking people into buying something, so it doesn't look like a theft. If I respond to spam and actually give you money, or install a program to control my computer, it doesn't look like a crime anymore, because I did it myself. But the fact that I can't stop a spammer from sending me e-mails is a crime, too.

-Monika

And readers chime in with their thoughts on motorcycles -- including "environmentally friendly" electric ones:

First, let me say you are right-on with your thoughts on spam and free speech. Second, you should have warned us that the Ironcross Web site may not be appropriate for work. Third, from your previous newsletters, I take it you are more of a big twin guy, but I really love my Suzuki DL1000. It's also a twin, albeit a 90 degree.
-Joey

Helping the environment? Excuse me! And what about all that electricity? Does it simply grow on trees? Did you bother to realize that electric generating plants also cause pollution? Next time, think a little further than your nose!
-David

Got something to add? Let us have it! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to llow@redmondmag.com.

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