Reactions to Sun Microsystems, Inc.’s purchase of office productivity software maker Star Division Corp. have been decidedly mixed. While some industry observers see the move simply as an attempt to gain a toehold in the desktop office productivity market, others see it as a direct challenge to the Microsoft juggernaut.
Applications Free Over The Internet
Sun disclosed Tuesday that it bought the Palo Alto, California-based company so that it could distribute its applications — at no cost — to anyone with a Web browser. This process would not just save small business users space on their hard drives, but would keep them from shelling out a licensing fee every time they load a program on a new desktop PC.
However, Sun officials downplayed how such Web-based applications would be a direct challenge to its arch-rival Microsoft by claiming that the company was just giving customers what they wanted.
Although Microsoft has said that it is too early to respond to Sun’s move, officials added that the company was also considering the launch of Web-based applications.
Just Pie In The Sky?
Weaning computer users off of Microsoft’s popular Office Suite will be a mammoth job. Microsoft has notched up at least 100 million Office licenses to thousands of businesses throughout the world.
Also, some forget that Sun’s thrust is just the latest move in an attempt to capture a huge chuck of Microsoft’s business. Several years ago, Sun introduced a new type of network computer that operated without a hard drive and without Microsoft’s Windows operating system. It fizzled.
Sun is also the creator of Java, a programming language used for writing Web-based software. Despite immense popularity, however, it too has not delivered a knockout punch to Bill Gates & Co.
Time for Change
Sun seems to be betting on the fact that Star Division’s package of office software is a product whose time has come. With more computer novices coming online daily, the company is gambling that Web-based software will be a natural for users of portable devices such as screen-equipped cellular phones and laptops.
It also is counting on the proliferation of broadband Internet access, making the use of such Web-based programs both natural and easy.
Meanwhile, America Online CEO Steve Case has hinted that AOL is also working on Web-based software solutions. Later this year, AOL will launch a Web-based personal planner that can be used for free by its 20 million users.
Battle Has Just Begun
With its $500 million surplus, Microsoft is unlikely to fold anytime soon, regardless of the challenges it faces from Web-based software. Nonetheless, it will definitely be forced to readjust the way it approaches the desktop marketplace. The days of demanding licensing fees for every computer loaded with one of its products could soon give way to a flat fee monthly lease. More importantly, it appears that users will have more than one choice for the first time in decades.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.