ARMONK, New York: It's hard being a quasi-monopoly as Microsoft learned more than a decade ago! As with many a champ, even the smallest bar-room tough guy wants to take a swing at you.

But the latest hard man to throw a punch at the Redmond heavyweight software champion is no lightweight - IT titan IBM Corporation. Nor is its punch directed toward Microsoft's chin but at its principal cash-cow, Office business software.

Following in the footsteps of other (not-so) little guys like Sun Microsystems and Google, IBM rocketed from its corner with a suite of free programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Branded Lotus Symphony, the new contender was introduced Wednesday at an industry event in New York and is available for download from IBM's website.

Using open source software, Symphony is yet another attempt to undermine Microsoft's dominance of the PC software market.

IBM has been collaborating with OpenOffice technology for some time and has now switched thirty-five full-time programmers to the project.

Given IBM's status and reach with corporate customers, say analysts, its endorsement could be significant.

Opines IDC analyst Melissa Webster: "IBM is jumping in with products that are backed by IBM, with the IBM brand and IBM service. This is a major boost for open source on the desktop."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff