Will Microsoft See the ‘Sun’ Rise?

Last week, Sun Microsystems, Inc. claimed that it gave away nearly 500,000 copies of its new office software in a matter of two weeks.

Scott McNealy, Sun’s chief executive, even bragged that 40,000 copies of the software suite — which includes word-processing and spreadsheet programs — are being downloaded every day from Sun’s Web site.

However, the real reason for the giveaway has nothing to do with office software. Sun offered the freebies because it recently failed to win over consumers when it offered its Java Station — a computer designed to run over the Internet and corporate data networks — as an alternative to Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

McNealy hopes that by introducing StarOffice to the world for free, Sun will deliver the missing component needed to make the Java Station take off. If the gambit works, then Microsoft’s iron grasp on the OS and office software markets might be loosened.

It’s a bad bet.

Will New Model Work?

Earlier this month, Sun unveiled a new computer that runs from a network server instead of an internal operating system. The company is selling the device, known as Sun Ray, for $499 (US$). It can also be leased for $9.99 a month.

As much as I’d like to see Microsoft have some stiff competition, I have come to the conclusion that Sun’s latest proposition is mostly hype — and falls flat on its face.

For starters, the prices of computers are falling fast. There are so many rebate and giveaway programs in the marketplace that consumers and businesses alike can get desktops in a price range close to what Sun is charging for its Java-machine.

No Match For Microsoft Office

Regardless, Sun’s free StarOffice suite is simply no match for Microsoft’s Office.

To begin with, just downloading StarOffice is a major ordeal. It took me about a week to even get a connection to a server for the download. Then it took another week to finish the five-hour download, because I was disconnected at least a half-dozen times.

When I finally loaded StarOffice onto my PC’s hard drive, I found it difficult to use — and lacking in basic features. For instance, the word-processing program didn’t even have a “word count” option.

Since the download was free, I can’t complain. But my point is simply that StarOffice gives you what you pay for.

Additionally, the version of StarOffice that I ordered was designed to run on Windows. This minor detail makes me question the soundness of Sun’s strategy. Does it hope to convert Microsoft Office users by allowing them to download a product that runs on Windows? Somehow the logic escapes me.

The Mouse That Roared

Actually, Sun’s latest strategy reminds me a little of the movie “The Mouse That Roared.” In the film, a tiny European duchy declares war on the United States, hoping that the Americans will retaliate, level the place, and then rebuild it from scratch.

I certainly hope that Scott McNealy isn’t looking to Peter Sellers for inspiration.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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