Sun Opens StarOffice; StarPortal Remains Absent

As promised, Sun Microsystems released the source code Friday for its StarOffice suite of productivity applications, although a Web-based version of the software that can be used online continues to suffer delays.

Like other open-source projects, offering the source code to StarOffice will allow software developers to modify the product in a way that better suits their needs and to create new features that can be shared with other users of the product, said Bill Roth, a group product manager at Sun.

The code was made available for download on Friday at the Web site http://www.openoffice.org, which will act as a coordination point for development of the software, he said. The site is being hosted by CollabNet, an open-source services company founded by open-source pioneer Brian Behlendorf.

The code was released under a dual license -- the popular GNU General Public License and the Sun Industry Standard Source License. All of the code is available under the GNU license, but developers who want to release a commercial implementation of the productivity suite under the StarOffice brand will need to use the Sun license, Roth said.

StarOffice is a suite of productivity applications originally developed by Star Division Corp. of Germany. Sun acquired Star Division in August 1999 and began offering the software suite for free. It includes programs for word processing, spreadsheets and the like.

Sun, which is a fierce rival of Microsoft Corp., is trying to position the software as a viable alternative to Microsoft Office. Analysts have said thet they don't expect large corporations to switch over to a product as new as StarOffice anytime soon, but that the fact that the software is being offered for free could make it attractive in the longer term.

Roth claimed today that 500 software developers are active in an e-mail discussion list dedicated to the development of StarOffice. Among them are developers at large corporations such as Boeing Co. -- evidence, according to Roth, that big companies as well as enthusiasts are eyeing the product.

Still absent from the picture is StarPortal, a version of StarOffice that users will be able to access over the Internet and use as a service. While StarOffice resides on a desktop, StarPortal can be hosted on a server by a business or an application service provider (ASP) and accessed using a Web browser. Microsoft is developing a server-based version of Microsoft Office.

Sun originally said it would release StarPortal in the first half of 2000 but the product has yet to materialize. In July, a Sun spokesman said the company hoped to begin testing a beta, or preview, version of the product soon with a few hundred users, with a view to rolling it out by the end of the third quarter.

On Monday, Roth and another Sun spokesman weren't immediately able to provide a progress update on StarPortal but confirmed that it has yet to be released.

The version of StarOffice currently available from Sun is version 5.2. The code made available on the Web last week is based on version 6 of the product, which uses a modularized design that makes it possible to break StarOffice into reusable components and discrete applications, Roth said.

"I don't think it's a terribly huge gesture to give them an open-source project that's already completed and commercially available," Roth said. Having access to an early release of the next version of StarOffice is of much greater value to the open-source community, he said.

The product has 9 million lines of code, according to Sun, making it the largest amount of code ever dumped on the open-source community in one go. The download of the source code measures about 75M bytes, Roth said.

Sun also released on Friday the XML file formats and StarOffice API specifications. XML replaces a proprietary binary format as StarOffice software's file format and becomes the suite's new native file format, Sun said in a statement issued MondaySun is positioning XML as the next standard for exchanging office documents, the company said in the statement.

StarOffice is available for Sun's Solaris platform, Microsoft Windows and Linux, and will be available for Macintosh users in the first half of next year, Sun said. The product is compatible with Microsoft Office, according to Ross, meaning that a StarOffice user would be able to import and export files created with Office.

In a statement, Behlendorf, who is co-founder and chief technical officer of CollabNet, said today's announcement "cements Sun's commitment to the open-source community and shows they are committed to not only publishing source code but to engaging the community in the development process."

Sun Microsystems Inc., in Mountain View, California, can be reached at http://www.sun.com/.

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