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Free OpenOffice for Mac users

The first beta of Sun Microsystems' open-source competitor to Microsoft Office that caters to Mac users is finally here.

The free, open-source competitor to Microsoft Office now caters to Mac users.

Sun Microsystems released the first beta of OpenOffice, the open-source sibling of its StarOffice package, for Mac OS X computers on Monday. The release coincides with the OpenOffice group's two-year anniversary.

Version 1.0 of OpenOffice, already available for Linux, Windows and Solaris computers, is open-source software, meaning that anyone can look at the software's inner workings, modify it and distribute it for free.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has recently taken steps to make the sticker price of its Mac Office suite more palatable, launching a $199 promotion that allows new Mac buyers to buy Office for half the price of a full copy.

The Mac version of OpenOffice is a milestone for open-source programmers working on their own. Sun had been working on a Mac OS X version, but in 2001 withdrew and turned the work over to the open-source community instead.

However, the new version isn't for everyone. It requires installation of software such as XFree86 for basic graphics functions, such as drawing windows on the screen. Mainstream Mac OS X software uses Apple's Quartz and Aqua graphics and interface software.

A regular Mac OS X interface for OpenOffice is under way but still remote.

"The Quartz/Aqua build represents a substantial amount of work on the user interface, and there is much still to be done," the OpenOffice organizers said on their Web site. "At this point, there is no estimated time of completion for the Aqua native interface due to the amount of work yet to be done and the number of contributing developers."

The OpenOffice project, which began two years ago, has acquired added prominence with Sun's decision to charge for StarOffice. The new price tag rankled Red Hat, the top seller of the Linux operating system, which now bundles OpenOffice with its latest version.

Also Monday, the OpenOffice group announced a new developer version for Linux, Windows and Solaris.'s Ian Fried contributed to this report.