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Sun software divisions making changes

The computing giant is looking to replace a Java executive and is revamping its StarOffice and Solaris products.

Changes are afoot within Sun's software organization as the server maker looks to replace a veteran Java executive and is revamping its StarOffice and Solaris products.

Gina Centoni, who has worked with Sun's Java initiative for five and a half years, has left the company to work for phone software maker Openwave Systems, Sun spokeswoman May Goh said. Most recently, Centoni was senior director of product marketing for the Sun One initiative, the company's highest-priority software project as it strives to catch up to Microsoft in Web services.

Centoni will work with Openwave's developer community, Goh said. Openwave didn't immediately respond to calls for comment.

It's not the only turnover at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun, which considers software an important component of its primary mission of selling servers.

Last year, George Paolini left to work at Zaplet, which seeks to create sophisticated e-mail services, while David Gee left for peer-to-peer start-up eMikolo Networks. Gee, whom Sun lured from IBM, left and now is vice president of Yahoo's portal services, confirmed Yahoo spokeswoman Helena Maus. The group creates customized portals for companies' internal Web sites.

Contacts at Openwave could prove useful for Sun, which has major efforts to sell Java software that ties together phones and back-end servers. Likewise, Yahoo shares much of Sun's vision for a world where people tap into countless services over the Internet.

Bill Roth and Rick Schultz, group managers of product marketing, are handling Centoni's duties until a permanent replacement is found, Goh said.

Gartner analyst Michael Silver says the decision by Sun Microsystems to charge for StarOffice 6.0 increases the viability of its office suite, which has almost no installed base but offers promise.

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StarOffice for a fee
Meanwhile, Sun also took steps to improve the middling success of its StarOffice suite, which competes with Microsoft Office. StarOffice works on Sun's Solaris version of Unix, as well as Windows. Sun hasn't succeeded in making many inroads against Microsoft Office and has included the office software as part of its antitrust suit filed earlier this month against the software behemoth.

Sun offers the current 5.2 version of StarOffice as a free download, but as expected there will be no free version of the coming version 6, the company said. Prices for the new version will be announced when the new version ships in the second half of May.

Sun will charge for each user of the software, with volume discounts, and hopes the services, training and support will convince corporate customers that the product is serious.

While many believe that charging a price will improve the product's credibility, not all are happy about the change.

"I can assure you that if Sun charges schools for StarOffice that their product's presence in education will evaporate," said J. Doug Harris, director of information services at Berryville, Ark., public schools district. "Microsoft Office licenses can be purchased by schools for $48 each, so why pay more than that for a work-alike?"

Sun wants to keep the education market happy, though, and will sell a version to those customers for the cost of the CD and shipping.

A free version will still exist, however. Sun will link to the no-cost open-source version of StarOffice, located at OpenOffice, the site of the open-source group that develops the OpenOffice suite of software with substantial help from Sun.

One key difference between OpenOffice and StarOffice is in spell checking. OpenOffice comes with spell-checking software but not a dictionary, though one can be downloaded. Other features missing from OpenOffice are some Asian fonts, the Adabas personal database, clip art and some filters for importing files from other software products.

Marco Boerries, who founded the company that created StarOffice before Sun acquired it in 1999, left Sun to form a start-up called VerdiSoft, which aims to make it easier for phone companies to send data to devices such as cell phones.

Solaris 9
Predating Java and StarOffice in Sun's software organization is Solaris, its version of the Unix operating system. Sun is working on version 9 of the product, currently in beta testing

Solaris 9, which Sun plans to ship next quarter, has a number of new security features, said Ravi Iyer, product line manager for security and directory services at Sun.

For one thing, Solaris will have more refined administration controls, he said. In current versions of Solaris, permission to administer a server is an all-or-nothing affair, but in Solaris 9, different privilege levels will be possible based on categories such as junior network administrator or database administrator.

Other improvements include the following:

•  A full-fledged firewall, or software for protecting servers from unauthorized access. The product is much more sophisticated than the "lite" version that comes with current versions of Solaris, a help given that many companies have firewalls within their networks, and not just between their networks and the Internet.

•  Better features to help prevent buffer overflows, a software problem that's the basis for many attacks used to take over systems. Solaris 9 will come with a switch that makes it easier to write software that can't execute in the "stack," the central area of a chip's memory targeted by buffer overrun attacks.

•  Stronger 128-bit encryption enabled by default, easing secure transactions for transfer of sensitive information such as credit card or social security numbers. Previously, because of government regulations, weaker 56-bit encryption was all that could be exported.

•  Improved performance of the security module that records activities such as logins, file access and administrator commands. The base security module that handles these chores now is multi-threaded, meaning that it runs better on computers with multiple CPUs.

•  An improved random-number generator, a key feature of encryption. The new module bases its numbers on more factors, such as chip state, time of day, data in memory and other factors.

•  Support for version 2.0 of the Secure Shell standard for issuing commands to a server over a network. Sun improved the open-source OpenSSH software so it had better record-keeping abilities. Sun submitted those changes back to the open-source group that collectively develops OpenSSH.

•  Integration into Solaris of version 5 of the Kerberos standard for authenticating passwords.