Sun lays plans to boost desktop

Sun Microsystems plans to launch an Enterprise Edition of its StarOffice software in 2004 that will feature better management and a tie-in to network services.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems plans to launch an Enterprise Edition of its StarOffice software in 2004 that will feature better management and a tie-in to network services, executives said Tuesday.

Sun will release the Enterprise Edition "some time next year," said Joerg Heilig, director of software engineering for StarOffice products at Sun. Among its management features will be the implementation of software updates, he said in an interview at the SunNetwork conference here.

Tying into back-end services such as e-mail and rights management also is an increasing push for Microsoft, whose Office software overwhelmingly dominates the market.

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Sun is trying to cut into that market with its "Mad Hatter" initiative, now officially called the Java Desktop System and priced at $100 per computer per year or $50 per employee per year. Sun's StarOffice and its close relative, the open-source OpenOffice suite, have a 6 percent share in the small and medium-size business market and even less among large businesses, Heilig acknowledged. But "we expect some uptick with the Java Desktop System," Heilig said.

The Java System software family is Sun's latest attempt to make its software more widely used and financially significant for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which has struggled with declining revenue since the technology heyday of the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, Sun began showing an update to StarOffice 6. The new version 7--due by the end of the year--comes with better compatibility with Microsoft file formats; the ability to export data to Adobe Portable Document Format or Macromedia Flash formats; a software developer kit to build new plug-in modules; support for Asian fonts; and accessibility features for people with impaired hearing or eyesight--support for which is needed before the government may buy the software.

Sun is working on signing up partners for its Java Desktop System. The company doesn't plan to build Linux PCs itself, but instead will rely on computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard or Dell, Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software for Sun, said in an interview.

Sun doesn't yet have any partners signed up, though, said Curtis Sasaki, vice president of engineering for desktop software solutions.

"We're having many discussions with many people all over the world," Sasaki said. The company hopes to have PC partners by the time the Java Desktop System launches in the fourth quarter.