Sun Microsystems has decided to release the source code to its StarOffice office productivity suite under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL).
The announcement received much attention at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in California on Wednesday, with many open-source luminaries applauding the move.
Sun is positioning StarOffice as a replacement for Microsoft Office 2000. It runs on Windows, Linux, OS/2 and Solaris. StarOffice joins other open-source suites, including Gnome Office.
Sun has released other products, such as its Java programming language, under the Java Community Source License, a licensing model that has met with criticism from the open-source community. GPL, by contrast, is used by such open-source projects as Linux.
"It's wonderful," said open-source advocate Eric Raymond, who has been a vocal critic of the Sun Community Source Licence. "They have finally figured out that they screwed up before [with Java]."
"We wanted to have the same impact on office suites that Linux has had on operating systems, and the only way to do that is the GPL," explained Marco Boerries, Sun's vice president and general manager of Webtop and application software at Sun. Boerries joined Sun last year when it acquired Star Division, the company he founded.
In the upcoming months, Sun will release a Web-based version of StarOffice called StarPortal. The product will be free, but Boerries said the company hasn't yet decided about releasing the source code. StarPortal will let users access office productivity applications in a Java-enabled browser. Service providers may host it and charge a fee, or enterprises can install it free on their own servers, Boerries said. StarPortal will run on Solaris, Windows 2000 and Linux.
Microsoft executives have discussed plans to launch a Web-based version of Office called Office.net but haven't released ship dates or other information. Several application service providers do offer hosted versions that make use of Windows Terminal Services, rather than a browser. Microsoft recently announced monthly subscription prices for Office targeted at this market.