Sun Microsystems StarOffice 8 is a solid productivity suite that costs a fraction of the price of its main competitor, Microsoft Office 2003. StarOffice includes the Writer word processor, the Calc spreadsheet maker, the Draw graphics tool, the Base database, and the Impress slide-show application. Like its free and open-source relation OpenOffice 2, StarOffice 8 has plenty of enhancements: new mail-merge and database wizards, better import and export filters for Microsoft Office files, and an Adobe PDF-export tool that now supports hyperlinks, tables of contents, and other essentials. You'll also see a revamped interface, particularly in the Impress presentation program. What's missing? StarOffice 8 lacks a contacts manager, an e-mail program, and a photo editor, all of which provides. And while StarOffice runs on a variety of operating systems, including Linux, Solaris, and Windows, it eschews Macintosh--surprising, given the suite's cross-platform philosophy. But the package price of $100 on CD or $70 via download makes StarOffice 8 a good buy for both small and large businesses.
For a single-user system, StarOffice is a breeze to install. The simple process took us 10 minutes on our test Windows XP PC. The program is no disk hog, either. It demands just 250MB to 400MB of hard disk space, depending on which components you include. StarOffice 8 has improved its setup routine for enterprise users. It now automatically adopts the default language for your system, and IT managers can use administration tools for Linux, Solaris, and Windows to load StarOffice on networked desktops. It's polite, too: it doesn't make itself the default program for opening Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files unless you check the appropriate boxes during setup.
Each of the five main programs in StarOffice 8--Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, and Draw--bears more than a passing resemblance to its counterpart in Microsoft Office. Luckily, the interface enhancements to StarOffice are significant. Writer, for instance, has a cleaner toolbar-and-menu layout than in . The clunky Load URL window is gone, and many icons formerly stacked in a left-side column, such as Spellcheck and Find, have moved to the main toolbar. Microsoft Word devotees won't have a problem making the switch to Writer.
Impress, the presentation program, got the biggest makeover, with a streamlined arrangement of toolbars and menus resembling the ones in Writer and Calc. Impress now displays thumbnail images of slides in its Outline view, à la Microsoft PowerPoint, making it easier to rearrange slides. New animation effects, slide transitions, and drawing shapes are designed to increase compatibility with PowerPoint. In our tests, however, some PowerPoint slide transitions didn't work well, and some text and images vanished completely.StarOffice 8 comes in two versions. We tested the Standard Edition ($70 download, $100 CD), which includes Writer, Calc, Base, Draw, and Impress. By contrast, the pricier Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 costs anywhere from $250 to $450. runs $349. Then again, both Microsoft and Corel include powerful e-mail programs--a component sorely missing in the StarOffice suite.