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Sun working on StarOffice update

Sun Microsystems is set to offer a test release of a new version of the software package, one of the company's most visible efforts to erode Microsoft's dominance over PC computing.

Sun Microsystems next week will begin offering a trial edition of the next version of its StarOffice software.

Sun expects to post the public beta, or test version, of StarOffice 6.1 on its Web site by Wednesday, said Iyer Venkatesan, product line manager for Sun. A second, limited-release beta will be available to selected testers in May. The final version of StarOffice 6.1 is expected to be available in October.

StarOffice, Sun's commercial distribution of its open-source OpenOffice package, includes a word processor, a spreadsheet application and other common office tools. StarOffice has become one of Sun's most visible efforts to erode Microsoft's dominance over PC computing, with Sun positioning it as a low-cost alternative to the software giant's Office.

While the Microsoft product still boasts market share in the 90 percent range, Sun has made inroads lately, including its first bundling deal with a major PC maker and a new "thin client" strategy that incorporates StarOffice. Thin clients are computing terminals whose applications and data run off a centralized server, allowing the client software to run on relatively low-end devices.

The new version of StarOffice includes expanded support for handicapped users and new business configuration tools that allow information technology managers to oversee multiple StarOffice desktops from a single location. The new release also will allow people to save documents in Adobe Systems' widespread Portable Document Format (PDF).

"We've focused a lot on the enterprise features, getting StarOffice ready for deployment in the enterprise," Venkatesan said.

Version 6.1 also has enhanced support for creating localized versions of the software. Sun expects to have Hindi, Hebrew and Arabic versions of StarOffice ready later this year, and third-party vendors are working on versions for Eastern European countries and other regions. Venkatesan said widespread geographic support is a key part of Sun's strategy for boosting acceptance of StarOffice.

"There are these emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa where they need a strong office product but they can't pay hundreds of dollars per seat," he said.