StarOffice 6.0 sparks Sun, Microsoft price contest

Is the price gap between Microsoft Office XP and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice 6.0 enough to force users to jump ship and abandon XP?

With expected licence savings of up to 75 per cent on its latest productivity suite, StarOffice 6.0 looks set to lead some companies away from Office XP with StarOffice 6.0 tempting companies in search of comparable features at lower cost.

Pitching an "economical, interoperable and high-performance alternative to proprietary office products suites" for enterprise customers, Sun unleashed StarOffice to the market on May 22 and IT professionals raced to trial its capabilities.

National Jet Systems Group IT manager Steve Tucker said price is a key motivator for large organisations with hundreds or thousands of seats.

Tucker said his company is not a Microsoft Office XP user as "there is not enough advantage to our business over previous versions of Office, especially for the extra cost outlay".

"Microsoft has also succeeded in making the licensing model so confusing," he said.

"We are seriously considering StarOffice for the future; there will be a snowball effect for Microsoft alternatives as confidence increases."

Despite agreeing that the price gap between Microsoft Office XP and StarOffice 6.0 will be a motivator for companies to look at jumping ship, Shaun Travers, systems architect, Queensland Transport (QT), said the department is locked into a whole of government (Queensland) agreement for Microsoft Office software until July 2004.

"There's a low likelihood that we would jump ship, due to our agreement and to consider StarOffice we would have to do a full costing model, including swapout, training and software distribution to determine if the price difference is significant," Travers said.

While Queensland University is trialling StarOffice, in Victoria Monash University Library systems librarian Simon Huggard said it is not a viable alternative.

"We are very much wedded to Microsoft products as the standard installation for Monash University," Huggard said.

Huggard disagrees that the price gap between the Sun and Microsoft offerings will persuade users to jump ship.

"Because our users, particularly staff, are not very good at moving to new versions of software in a quick efficient manner, productivity is the issue. In our student environment, we don't wish to impose something on students who haven't seen or had training in the package. It would take a university-wide retraining program for this to happen," Huggard said.

Another IT manager from a consulting firm, who requested anonymity, believes Microsoft Office XP is the best deal and offers better value for money.

"The Productivity Suites are not islands any more. There are tremendous interoperability issues, support costs, training, and the like. It might be OK for some, but when your files aren't compatible with other organisations you lose productivity or reputation or morale.

-- Todd Weiss contributed to this story.

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