Sun pushes free StarOffice for schools, adds languages

Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to give away its StarOffice 6.0 product to schools around the world and increase the number of languages the software supports in an effort to steal market share from rival Microsoft Corp., a Sun executive said Tuesday.

Sun has been promoting StarOffice 6.0 as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft's Office. StarOffice offers features similar to Microsoft Office and has a nearly identical user interface.

Sun companies in many countries are in talks with local education authorities, such as ministries of education, to get the software into schools and universities. Educational customers will get the software for free, said Frank Bell, marketing director for Sun Netherlands BV. If the customers want many CD-ROMs, those can be provided at cost, he said.

"This is a worldwide program. Sun companies around the world are working to get it going," he said. A Sun vice president for the educational market, Kim Jones, will visit several European countries next week to officially donate StarOffice, Bell said.

The special StarOffice offer for the educational market was first announced in May when Sun launched StarOffice as a commercial product, but the offer has not been effectuated until now to coincide with school calendars, said Bell. Sun companies in Norway, Poland and The Netherlands are working on localized versions of StarOffice, said Bell. The software is available now in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Other local version may follow, according to Bell.

StarOffice typically is available in stores and offered to schools in a country if the local language is supported, Bell said. Through the expanded availability of StarOffice, Sun hopes to reach the enterprise user, the most lucrative market for the vendor, he said.

"Microsoft has heavily promoted use of (Microsoft) Office with home and educational users and from there Office grew into the enterprise. That is what we are doing now as well, through the retail channel on one side and through the educational market on the other," explained Bell.

StarOffice retails for US$75.95 per copy and each copy can be used on up to five PCs. Microsoft Office XP Standard is listed at $479, and each copy can be used on only one PC. A boxed version of Office XP Standard for students and teachers is listed at $149. Microsoft does offer special pricing for schools.

Schools and corporate users alike have cried foul over Microsoft's licensing policies. A revamped Microsoft licensing scheme, which analysts and users have said makes Microsoft software more expensive for most, has increased interest in alternatives for Microsoft Office, one of Microsoft's most profitable products.

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