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With StarOffice 6.0, Sun steps into uncharted territory: charging money. But that doesn't mean that Sun is getting mercenary. The company gave most of the code to an organization called OpenOffice.org. That group created a free, slightly stripped-down StarOffice look-alike called OpenOffice 1.0. Check it out if you really don't want to pay for Sun's suite.
So why bother paying $76? For one thing, StarOffice offers traditional tech support. The help desk responds to calls or e-mail from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (PT), weekdays only. OpenOffice.org doesn't.
In addition, StarOffice comes in versions for Windows, Linux, and Solaris. These varied OS versions share file formats, so it's a breeze to swap documents with folks who run different operating systems. Better yet, StarOffice still supports Windows 95, which Office XP abandoned. But because the StarOffice lineup lacks a polished Mac version, anyone who owns one or regularly swaps office files with Mac users should, ironically, stick with Microsoft. Fortunately, OpenOffice.org offers an embryonic Mac OS X edition.
Installing StarOffice takes just a few moments. But like most office suites, 6.0 requires serious disk space. A standard installation demands 215MB, while the minimum install needs 130MB; Microsoft Office's default install, by comparison, requires a minimum of 210MB. To save space, you can choose a custom installation that lets you skip some of StarOffice's apps, such as the spreadsheet or drawing module.
What's in the box?
StarOffice covers most of the office-suite bases. You'll find a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc), a presentation program (Impress), and a drawing tool (Draw). However, unlike Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, and Corel WordPerfect Office, StarOffice doesn't ship with a real database. Instead, Sun includes a data-source administration tool that extracts data or data-containing files, such as spreadsheets, from its own apps as well as from outside data sources such as SQL databases, spreadsheets, and your e-mail address book. Not only is StarOffice missing a database, don't even bother looking for Web building tools, such as Microsoft FrontPage, or an e-mailer/organizer, such as Outlook.
But even with its limited module offerings, StarOffice has several slick tricks up its sleeve. Our favorite: Because Sun built the suite on the XML-based file format, StarOffice 6.0 generates small file sizes. For example, a 540-page document that chews up 1.2MB in Microsoft Word is just 338K in StarOffice Writer's XML format. And the XML format also makes it possible to share documents among the suite's different OS editions.
On the bright side, version 6.0 does improve upon 5.2. StarOffice 6.0's redesigned Help window permits easier access and searchability. Also, as in Microsoft Office, StarOffice's Print Preview now displays in the window in which you're working, instead of launching a new window. StarOffice 6.0 comes in versions for Arabic, Danish, Dutch, French, German, and--at last--Asian languages, including Japanese and Chinese. It also connects to the default e-mailer on your system, so you can send e-mail documents as attachments directly from any application by using the File > Send command. StarOffice even plants an icon in the Windows Taskbar system tray for one-click access to the suite's applications.