Sun to acquire StarOffice for hosted applications

Sun Microsystems is expected this week to announce the acquisition of Star Division's StarOffice 5.1 suite of Java-based productivity applications. It will add them to Sun's growing arsenal of "dot-com" products for ISPs, application service providers (ASPs), and enterprises, according to sources.

In scooping up Star's technology, Sun acquires not only a line of downloadable thin-client Java productivity applications, but a slew of multiplatform client applications, which may mean Sun will soon deliver client devices installed with client software.

But analysts and observers said that Sun's main objective with the multilanguage Star products is to rush to become the leading global provider of internet-based applications hosting infrastructure - from hardware platforms to application servers to hosted e-mail to Java productivity applets - for the fast-growing service provider and portals businesses.

Sun will use Star's word processing, spreadsheet and charts, presentations, database, HTML editor, vector and bit-map graphics editors, e-mail, calendar, and task management applications to target both home and business users, sources said.

The Star-Sun synergy is expected to target home and small business users first. The cost of becoming connected to the internet via a PC has never been cheaper, analysts said, and Sun's new applications may become a compelling proving ground for the hosted approach to Web services.

And the ability for home-based users to access a robust set of free applications from free PCs over inexpensive internet connections may soon prompt a radical shift at companies away from such large PC client packages as Microsoft Office, analysts said.

"The first opportunity is for portal operators to provide this kind of capability ... with a truly personalised Web top," said Tom Austin, analyst at the Gartner Group. "Then CEOs will ask the CIO why they are spending millions each year on applications that are available for free online."

Over next three years, Gartner Group forecasts an explosion in so-called MAD, or mass access devices including TV set top boxes, wireless devices, and even petrol station pumps.

"No one is going to buy Microsoft Office for these devices. Portals that don't do application hosting will be playing catch-up to portals that do," Austin said.

It was unclear in advance of the announcement whether Sun would acquire Star outright, or find a way to acquire or licence the suite of productivity applications alone. Star now makes its Java applications available for free Web download.

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