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IBM is gunning for Microsoft's multi–billion dollar Office franchise with a hosted incarnation of its personal productivity suite built on OpenOffice.

On Monday, IBM announced a cloud edition of its Symphony suite in a broad push to take business from Microsoft's $14bn-plus Office and email business. Symphony is also intended to block Microsoft's expansion into the cloud with Office Web Apps, the browser-based version of Office.

Called LotusLive Symphony, IBM's software will be slotted in alongside the existing, hosted LotusLive lineup. Other LotusLive services include IBM's iNotes email, file and document sharing, application and desktop sharing, web conferencing, video conferencing, and IM.

LotusLive Symphony is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2011.

IBM claims 50 million downloads of the Symphony suite, which is currently free. The hosted LotusLive version of the suite starts at $3.00 per user per month with storage kicking in at 5MB. IBM explicitly said the service is for those "looking to break free of costly Microsoft Office desktops."

Businesses who want Office Web with apps and SharePoint cannot get Office Web apps without an Office 2010 license. Also, the hosted suite does not offer the same document creation and editing features as the desktop suite. Microsoft offers a free version of Office Web apps targeted at consumers minus the Office license and that's back-ended by Microsoft's Dropbox-like Windows Live SkyDrive.

Symphony has been rebuilt by IBM on OpenOffice and it works with Microsoft's Visual Basic Macros, meaning you can import and open existing Office docs. Symphony also uses the Open Document Format (ODF), so it can work with various data and document stores.

Big Blue has also introduced the IBM Social Business Toolkit, a package of APIs and tutorials to help customers and partners integrate what it called "social elements" into "legacy mail and file sharing systems such as Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint." And it announced that the next versions of its Notes email software and Connections file-sharing software – both used in LotusLive – will become containers for Google's OpenSocial. This will let the apps consume gadgets from Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others services that support OpenSocial.

OpenSocial uses a common set of JavaScript APIs and REST/RPC, and it works with different web languages and libraries for server-to-server communications for apps.

To prove what's possible, IBM plans to demonstrate two examples of work built using OpenSocial. Activity Stream, the company said, "re-invents the inbox" by letting you see content from Twitter, Facebook, SAP, Salesforce, and other vendors alongside their company's content. Activity Stream will be added to the next version of what IBM called its "social collaboration" portfolio for access from "leading mobile devices including tablets." IBM singled out the iPad, iPhone, Google Android, Blackberry, and Nokia as the mobile devices it has in mind.

IBM is also showing off ShareBox, which is designed to integrate different OpenSocial gadgets. ®

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