Sun’s StarOffice Launches Renewed Attack on MS Office

In a campaign to compete directly with Microsoft Office, SunMicrosystems released its new StarOffice suite of applicationsWednesday, touting the package as an alternative to proprietarysoftware and noting that StarOffice has fewer licensing restrictions.

With enterprise pricing as low as US$25, StarOffice 6.0 canrun on Linux, Solaris and Windows platforms and will retail for$79.95 — compared with $479 for Microsoft Office or $239 foran MS Office upgrade.

Earlier this year, Sun promised to release a more robust application withbetter customer support than version 5.2, which the company hasoffered since it acquired the StarOffice product line in 1999.

Using open and published XML (extensible markup language), documentscreated in StarOffice can be opened, modified and shared with otherprograms, such as Office XP.

StarOffice is created from the same software as OpenOffice, anopen source project developed by Sunand others in which code is changed and shared among programmers.

The new suite will be made available to the retail market on May 21st.

Sun Cites Demand

Mike Rogers, vice president and general manager of desktop and officeproductivity software at Sun Microsystems, said earlier versionsof StarOffice registered more than 8 million downloads, indicating thatcustomers are demanding an alternative to Microsoft Office.

“Our enterprise customers worldwide are asking for freedom of choice,and we’re giving it to them with StarOffice 6.0 — freedom fromrestrictive licensing and freedom from unreasonable pricing andforced upgrades,” Rogers said.

According to Sun, more than 1.8 million users in the enterprise, government andeducation sectors currently are evaluating the software. The companyestimated an aggregate savings of $200 million in licensing costs for those usersif they choose to replace Office with StarOffice.

Educational institutions pay only for the cost of the CD and shipping, Sun added.

Sun also noted that such original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as Hyundai,MandrakeSoft, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux and Ximian are planning to include StarOffice 6.0in their product offerings.

Competing with Redmond

Microsoft countered the announcement with its own explanation of Sun’s newrelease. A company spokesperson told news sources that the value of Microsoft’s Officesuite far exceeds its market price, and dubbed StarOffice a “cheap alternative” toMicrosoft’s Office products.

Rob Perry, senior analyst at theYankee Group, told the E-Commerce Times that it isunlikely Microsoft is “losing any sleep” over Sun’s StarOfficelaunch.

“The desktop productivity market [race] is over. Microsoft owns it, unlessthe platform changes to something else and Windows goes away,”Perry said.

Price Point Effect Unclear

Despite StarOffice’s low price, Perry said he does not believethat companies currently using Office will switch to Sun’s offering.

“The price of the application is not that important compared to thecost of retraining people,” Perry said. “If you have to relearn these applications,it costs you much more than $400 in productivity loss.

“That’s the real thing that holds Office in the enterprise,” he added.

Home User Dabblers

But Perry noted that he does see a market for StarOffice among high-end home users,many of whom he predicted will experiment with using Linux, if they have notalready done so.

“They’re not paying $400 for Office anyway — they’re getting upgradesfrom their neighbors. There is still lots of sharing in the homemarket,” Perry said.

Perry added that with its new, more restrictive licensing and registration policies,Microsoft is trying its best to put an end to sharing. Its efforts so far, however, havehad little effect beyond simply raising consumers’ ire.

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