Friday, September 21, 2007

I Hear a Symphony

IBM added to the stampede of vendors seeking to do a better Office Suite than the king of the hill, Microsoft, with their announcement earlier this week of the free Lotus Symphony. (See CNET's excellent round-up "Opening Doors Beyond Micrososft Office").

As regular readers of this blog may recall, I've been an early user of Google Docs (all the way back to the Writely days) and also Zoho. And in fact, look for my examination of printing from browser-based apps early next week, right here.

But in the mean time, I want to end the week with a little bit of history on the "Symphony" name, and a parallel in the printing world.

Long-time industry members will recall Lotus Symphony as an "integrated software" competitor in the 1980's, when spreadsheet programs like VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 were being replaced by more "suite-like" offerings. Symphony, unlike its predecessor and monster hit 1-2-3, never made it, IBM ended up acquiring Lotus, but the name, with its pleasing sound and harmonic connotation, remained an unused asset until IBM decided to recycle it this year. (Some of this is from my own memory but is backed up and enhanced by a great history in Wikipedia under Lotus Symphony.)

The printer industry actually has a parallel. Apollo Computer (also see Wikipedia's entry) was an upstart technical workstation vendor in the 1980's, who along with Sun began to dominate the category until lagging incumbent HP (NYSE HPQ) acquired them in 1988. As things go, product lines were merged, and the name was retired. But in 1999, when HP's printer division was looking for a new brand name for a ultra-low-end inkjet printer product line, the Apollo name was resurrected. Apollo Printers don't yet warrant their own Wikipedia entry, though The Hard Copy Observer archives (not online) cover them well. They had a good run, lasting about three years, until HP simplified things and put its printing products all back under the "HP" name.

The recycling of names, when there is full and clear ownership, can make a lot of sense for companies. Of course with good names at a premium, made-up names are another popular route to go, but even they're not in infinite supply.

And while we're going nostalgic, that subject line? Supremes, 1965.


Jim Lyons said...

I forgot to add that Vince Ferraro has posted about Lotus Symphony in the LaserJet blog.

James said...

You are absolutely right about the Symphony name. I was surprised to see the name revived even though it is a pretty good name -- the name has also been co-opted by a chocolate manufacturer (Nestle?) and a California wine producer.

I was working at Lotus during those days and the name Symphony came in at the very last minute - the product was going to be called Lotus "Beacon". One other sidenote -- Lotus executives believed that Symphony would basically replace 1-2-3 and quickly eclipse the sales of 1-2-3. Symphony helped to increase the sales of 1-2-3 and only after that forced plans for an update to 1-2-3 which probably logged another $2-3B of sales thereafter until it was ultimately supplanted by Excel.