StarOffice glimmers on horizon

Sun Microsystems Inc. is preparing the release of the next version of its open-source office productivity suite, attempting to gather grass roots support to position the software as a viable competitor to Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite.

The Palo Alto-based hardware vendor said it will have a beta version of StarOffice 6.0, its suite of applications for word processing, e-mail management and spreadsheets, as early as October.

StarOffice is seen within the open-source software community as a key tool to take on Microsoft in the PC desktop market. It is packaged with a number of leading Linux operating systems. Sun also distributes StarOffice as a free download from its Web site, and makes the code to the software available so users can make changes to the functions and appearance of the software.

Roughly 20 million copies of StarOffice have been shipped worldwide since Sun first started offering it more than a year ago, Sun said. Five million shipments have been through downloads. Still analysts don't expect the product to gain marketshare on Microsoft too quickly.

"StarOffice is competition for Microsoft in about three places: China, Latin America, and (in) the U.S. in places where there are severe budget issues," said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research. It doesn't compete with Microsoft in companies with healthy budgets, he added.

Sun, whose primary market is the high-end server sector, has said it is playing in the office software market to directly take on Microsoft and its business model of generating revenue through software licenses and version upgrades. Sun doesn't depend on revenue from StarOffice, but rather hopes to gain new customer relationships and offer customers an alternative to Windows products, according to a Sun spokeswoman.

Sun purchased the technology for StarOffice last year from a company called Star Division Corp. based in Hamburg, Germany. In addition to the office suite, Sun also acquired a product called StarPortal, which the company has since rebranded as SunOne Webtop.

The portal hosts a number of services that StarOffice users can take advantage of such as online storage and remote access to documents from mobile devices, Sun said. StarPortal is similar to Microsoft's initiative to offer access to software and services across the Web, called .Net.

StarOffice runs on the Linux operating system as well as Windows and Sun's Solaris operating system. Files created in the StarOffice file format, now based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), can be opened in Microsoft Office. Similarly, the open source software can also read and write files created in Microsoft's Word, Excel and other Office applications.

But while StarOffice is compatible with the market leader, which analysts say is key to its success, the software has been criticized by some for being slow and bulky.

"StarOffice has pursued being a Microsoft Office alternative rather than creating something people want in a different way," Le Tocq. "Because it has pursued being an Office alternative, it's ended up rolling in features that don't always end up getting used."

Sun has broken the software into separate applications that can be launched independently of one another, which will help speed up the application, the company said. The previous 5.2 version, which Sun has called "monolithic," launched all the applications at once.

The software can be purchased through retail channels, such as Inc. for US$39.95. In comparison, Microsoft's Office XP Standard edition costs $479 at most retail locations, or $239 for an upgrade.

In addition to the stand-alone version of the software, StarOffice is distributed by a number of Linux vendors, including Red Hat Inc., Ximian Corp. and MandrakeSoft Inc.'s distribution of Linux. The newest version of StarOffice will include new support for Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Berger

Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?