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Sun expands StarOffice giveaway

Sun is expected to announce that it will give away its software suite to ministries of education in Europe and Africa, in an effort to undermine rival Microsoft.

Sun Microsystems will give away its StarOffice software to ministries of education in Europe and Africa, the company is expected to announce Tuesday, in an effort to undermine rival Microsoft.

"Sun is committed to giving the global education community access to the StarOffice productivity suite at no cost," Kim Jones, vice president of global education and research, said in a statement. If each copy of the software were purchased separately, the value of the deal would be more than $5.7 billion, Sun plans to announce.

Sun in March donated StarOffice to China's ministry of education earlier this year. That deal, plus similar ones with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Chile, meant that about 200 million students could use StarOffice, Sun said. The new deals could add about 24 million students to the total.

However, the company, which makes most of its money selling high-end computers called servers, has yet to announce which major corporations are using StarOffice.

The move is geared to undermine the power of Sun's archenemy, Microsoft, which dominates the market for word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software with its Microsoft Office product.

Sun hasn't done much to dent Microsoft's market share or make money on StarOffice. But it still can consider the erosion of Microsoft revenue and customer base a victory.

Office software isn't Sun's only attack on Microsoft. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also is embarking on a mission to spread the use of the Linux operating system. The company is expected to detail that effort Wednesday at its SunNetwork 2002 conference in San Francisco. StarOffice runs on Linux as well as Windows and Sun's Solaris operating system.

Price tags associated with donated software can be misleading because it costs a company little to reproduce thousands of copies of the programs. The difference between the retail and actual cost of software was a big part of criticism of a proposed settlement of some of Microsoft's antitrust case.

The price of StarOffice has additional caveats. The previous version 5.2 used to be free, but Sun began charging $76 for the current version 6. On the other hand, Sun also released the source code for the project so others can help develop it--and this version, a very close StarOffice relative called OpenOffice, already is available free.

Sun's new software chief, Jonathan Schwartz, has put Curtis Sasaki in charge of the StarOffice effort. Sasaki is the executive who most recently was responsible for making Sun's Java software a built-in part of cell phones from major manufacturers, an initiative that is still raw but far ahead of Microsoft's effort.