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Is there any reason to use one over the other? From what I can tell, they are essentially the same product except for the fact that one has IBM branding and a different interface.

From Wikipedia:

Currently, there are several derived and/or proprietary works  
based on OOo, with some of them being:
* IBM's IBM Lotus  Symphony, with a new interface based on  
  Eclipse (based on OO.o 1.x).

Is the interface all that was changed or are there more differences?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The most important difference between Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice that really matters, would be the fact that Symphony is, while based on OpenOffice code, still closed-source, whereas OO is entirely open source.

Engine-wise, it should not differ too much from OO since Symphony is a derivative fork from the OO project under IBM's heading. For now, underpinnings should still be the same, however it is not too impossible to expect that Symphony will start having major internal differences as time goes by, and IBM starts deviating Symphony from OO more in order to suit their own objectives better.

You would be right in saying that for now, the main differences between Symphony and OO would be the IBM branding and different interface. However, the interface is NOT just slightly different, and actually constitutes major differences in how you work in the office suite. Two chief differences are :

  1. Tabbed interface in Symphony
  2. Sidebar for quick options access in Symphony
  3. Different toolbar layouts in Symphony

alt text Symphony

alt text OpenOffice

That said, the underlying engines are pretty similar, however Lotus Symphony might provide better integration with IBM products in the future. If you would like to find out more about Lotus Symphony, you could start off with the General FAQ here.

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Very nice explanation, I was unaware of Symphony being partially closed-source. – Richard Marquez Sep 13 '09 at 17:04
love the UI in Symphony, hate how heavy it is (being Eclipse-based and all) – LRE Sep 13 '09 at 20:50
Both OO and Symphony are slow to load... however Symphony seems to be slightly quicker to me. – caliban Sep 14 '09 at 1:59
@Richard Marquez: proprietary works usuallly means closed source. – alexanderpas Jul 3 '10 at 14:44
Go for LibreOffice over, LO is a fork that almost all of the devs went to. I believe that OO is no longer updated. – ChimneyImp Aug 21 '12 at 18:37

in addition to Caliban's answer, Symphony is built on Eclipse. This makes it nice and portable but also rather heavy. OOo is compiled as binaries for each supported platform - not so heavy.

Also worth noting is that the early versions of Symphony derived from the OOo 1.x codebase. They may have caught up somewhat by now but I haven't actually checked myself.

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Symphony does not (as of December 2011) include Base, the OOo/LibreOffice database manager. According to Wikipedia, it had been planned for 3.0, but it's not there.

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