IBM to Sell Support for Rival to Microsoft Office

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IBM will offer help desk service for its Symphony software, raising the competition with rival Microsoft's Office.

BOSTON (Reuters) - IBM will offer help desk service for its Symphony line of software, raising the competition with rival Microsoft Corp's suite of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The programs from International Business Machines Corp have been available for free on its Web site since September 2007, but businesses can now buy contracts for help desk support for a flat fee of $25,000 per year, IBM said on Tuesday.

Companies and home users that don't want that support can continue to obtain the word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software for free.

It is the latest challenge to Microsoft Corp's Office, which faces new competition from companies such as Google Inc and as well as free collaboratively developed software such as OpenOffice.

Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research, said that businesses are likely to give the IBM programs a serious look, just as they have other Office rivals, including Google's Web based offering.

Google also sells support for its programs that rival Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Wettemann, whose firm advises companies on how to cut costs on computers and software, said IBM may have a tough time convincing businesses to pay for support of the relatively easy-to-use programs in Symphony.

"Why do I need support for documents and spreadsheets?" she said.

The software is available at symphony.lotus.com.

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