In a sign of the growing movement for alternatives to the industry-dominating Microsoft Office suite, IBM said Wednesday that more than 100,000 registered users downloaded the beta of its free office productivity software Relevant Products/Services, Lotus Symphony, in its first week.

The Armonk, New York-based company also reported that the Symphony Web site had more than one million visitors in the same time period.

Symphony, which is available for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Linux, has three components -- Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. Mac support is planned.

Standalone or Integrated

Available as a standalone or integrated into IBM's collaboration Relevant Products/Services tool Lotus Notes 8, Symphony uses the Open Document Format for document exchange, as well as Microsoft Office and other formats. IBM did note that there might be some conversion problems for Office documents with embedded macros, as well as possibly other conversion issues.

Mike Rhodin, IBM/Lotus Software General Manager, said in a statement that open documents are a key to Symphony's attraction. He added that this "tidal wave of adoption" consists of "an independent mass of users accustomed to open documents."

IBM said that the tidal wave of Symphony users will "help drive product development priorities for upcoming releases." The user community on the Symphony Web site has been growing, the company said, as indicated by the growth in support forum posts to more than 600 daily after a week, from less than a hundred the first day. Member voting will be added to the Symphony Web site to help assess feedback.

Repackaged, Older OpenOffice?

Some user feedback, posted outside of the Symphony site, was not complimentary. For instance, OpenOffice.org marketing executive John McCreesh posted on the Meall Dubh blog that he downloaded Symphony and, after "a bit of hacking," got it to work. "It was a bit surprising," he wrote, "that a company of IBM's standing should have made such a mess of packaging a piece of software, but I suppose they did brand it as a beta release."

He said he was annoyed that the product immediately installed itself without asking, became the default application for all his OpenOffice.org files, and substituted the "gaudy orange Lotus" icons for all his OpenOffice.org ones. McCreesh also said that the program crashed when he tried to load a complex spreadsheet, had poor font rendering, "an amateurish appearance," and "runs like a dog."

He said that, with an engineer's help, he discovered that the program was actually "a very old version 1.x release of OpenOffice.org," with a new interface and rebranding. Although he noted that this is not illegal, he asked "why a company of IBM's stature should take software well past its sell-by date, and try and pass it off as a new product."