October? October!? Just for a Mac beta?

Lotus Symphony is in beta, right?  And has been since September…. It’s a great solution, and is beginning to get some serious traction now with users.  Beta 4 is much more stable, and the full gold code isn’t that far away, at least for Windows and Linux.

So, what of the Mac release?  Well, as of the beta launch it was just “coming later”, then at Lotusphere it became “mid-year” and now according the Symphony beta blog, it is now tied it to the Notes 8.5 release, and October has been mentioned as the earliest likely date (“Symphony GA will not support Mac OS. The estimated released time for Symphony Mac Beta is in October.”)

This is a huge blow…

I know this is probably sounding like a bit of a rant (and no change there I guess), but it honestly isn’t…  I know there are some serious technical issues around deploying Eclipse apps on the Mac platform right now, but IBM has already shown with the release of the Notes 8.5 beta that it can be done, and pretty well too.

So why the delay of Symphony?  It can only be a matter of prioritisation and resource allocation.  

It feels, yet again, as if there are execs at the top of IBM (or at least SWG) that still don’t get how critical the Mac platform has become for Lotus over the past couple of years or so.  Yes, I know, if you look at seats deployed it is probably still a tiny percentage of the overall number. However, two arguments immediately spring to mind.  1) Look at who that percentage represents – execs, consultants, IT professionals, PR, the graduates streaming out of college…  The users that Lotus wants to be using its products.  2) Given IBM/Lotus’ chequered history on the Mac, was it really a viable platform before 7.0.2 and Domino support for Mac browsers? No, so in 12-18 months, look at that rapid increase…  Think about how that will increase and accelerate over the next 2-3 years with the right nuturing.

So, as far as I am concerned, the Mac is vital to the future of Lotus.  As I’ve said in the past, Lotus must “hang on to the coat-tails of Apple”… If there is a new product out, support it ASAP. If Apple launches a new PR campaign, make sure IBM is included.  Many folks talk of the under-30s as the Web2.0 generation, or “digital natives”. I agree, but I’d almost say that you could call them the “Apple generation”.  Whether it’s an iPod, an iPhone or a Macbook, a huge proportion of under-30s own and trust Apple products, so we have to get them to be using Lotus solutions on those products, or at least to consider them as viable alternatives.

Back to Symphony on the Mac…  What are the options for productivity suites on OS X?  iWork (great to use, but quirky and not really business-focused), Office 2008 (more downgrades than Vista if reports are to be believed), OpenOffice (still not properly ported to OS X) or NeoOffice (nice port of OpenOffice, but Mac only and not well supported).  None of these options are truly compelling for the average business user.  So Symphony on the Mac would, I believe, immediately leap to the top of the pile, especially with that lovely $0 price tag.  

So the opportunity is there, the solution is clearly feasible, and yet IBM is delaying it for another 6 months. I think this is a mistake, a huge mistake…

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!