StarOffice goes commercial, and stays open-source

Sun Microsystems's StarOffice 6.0 will come with enhanced features and added support, but at a price, as Sun aims to attract a wider audience, such as businesses, towards the office-productivity software suite. A less sophisticated version of the product will still be available for free download from OpenOffice.org, the open-source community sponsored by Sun, the company announced Tuesday.

"We are positioning this product as a direct competitor to Microsoft (Corp.'s) Office," said Mike Rogers, vice president and general manager of desktop and office productivity at Palo Alto, California-based Sun.

StarOffice is an office suite that includes word processing, spreadsheet, Web publishing and database applications. Along with version 6.0, currently in beta-testing, Sun will throw in "enhanced support features," such as online and phone support, training and deployment assistance, said Rogers.

"CIOs (chief information officers) at enterprises are uneasy about (adopting) a product without support and training for their IT staff. Our beta testers told us they wouldn't standardize on a product without that," which led Sun to make those support features available, Rogers said.

It will also come with features such as added fonts, a larger clip-art library, a database, a spell-checker, and other third-party applications.

The current version, StarOffice 5.2, has been available for download on http://www.openoffice.org/, or purchased via retail outlets for US$39.95, which included a CD and documentation. With the release of 6.0, Sun will stop distributing version 5.2 altogether; free downloads will end and the product will not be shipped either, said Rogers.

Dropping the free distribution model in favor of charging customers "could actually increase adoption," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Santa Clara, California. Enterprise customers are used to paying for software products, and StarOffice will be priced under Microsoft's Office products, while offering much of the same capability, she said.

According to Microsoft's Web site, a copy of Office XP Professional, the latest version of Office, costs $579 for the full version, or $329 for the upgrade. There are several versions of Office XP; Office XP Professional contains word-processing, spreadsheet, database, e-mail, and presentation software, making it the most similar to StarOffice 6.0.

"Companies are looking to reduce IT costs, and this can do that, but users should be aware that there are tradeoffs, as there is not seamless integration" between Microsoft Office and StarOffice 6.0, Giga's Quandt said. Users who have created special features in Office, such as macros, might not be able to use those in StarOffice, she said. Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be read and modified using StarOffice.

The open-source version, OpenOffice.org 1.0, will come without the support features and without the additional third-party applications, whose code can't be made available on an open-source basis. However, OpenOffice 1.0 is still a significant upgrade over StarOffice 5.2, Rogers said. Developers, enterprises, and anyone else interested will be still able to download and configure OpenOffice.org 1.0 as they wish, he said, adding that Sun plans to increase its support for that community of developers and marketers.

StarOffice 6.0 will be sold through a variety of means, including retail; agreements with software distributors of the Linux operating system, such as MandrakeSoft Inc.; bundling with products such as Sun's Solaris workstations; and through Sun's sales force. The software will be available for under $100 in retail stores, and will be sold via a licensing model to enterprises with significant volume discounts under the $100 mark, said Rogers. The licenses will be per-user, and will be flexible, without requirements such as mandatory upgrades, he said.

StarOffice 6.0 will be available in May.

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