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Sun muddies StarOffice plans for OS X

Sun Microsystems, in an e-mail sent to an open-source mailing list, backpedals on working with Apple Computer on the development of a Mac OS X version of StarOffice.

Sun Microsystems, in an e-mail sent to an open-source mailing list Thursday, backpedaled on working with Apple Computer on the development of a Mac OS X version of StarOffice.

In the e-mail, Tony Siress, Sun's senior director of desktop marketing solutions, wrote that "Sun does not have a partnership with Apple Computer to develop StarOffice for Mac OS X and is not planning a Java StarOffice that would run on Mac OS X."

The e-mail would appear to contradict statements Siress made to CNET News.com in an interview on July 26 about Sun's plans to release a commercial version of StarOffice for Mac OS X as early as next year. In that interview, Siress said that Sun was working on the product with the cooperation of Apple.

"Apple is helping us, though not officially, and my engineering team is working diligently," Siress said.

In the e-mail, Siress characterized his comments to CNET News.com as "some wishful thinking, and these were misinterpreted and, taken out of context, and gave altogether the wrong impression of my offline discussion."

But Sun spokesman Russell Castronovo, who had seen a partial transcript of the interview, described it differently.

"From what I can piece together, the (CNET News.com) story is an accurate representation of what was said during the course of the interview," he said. The story "accurately reflected the interview."

Castronovo did not speculate on why Siress said what he did in the interview, but he also emphasized that "we do not have a version of StarOffice we're planning to deliver right now" for Mac OS X. He would not say what Sun might do in the future. "We're actively trying to assist in that development and we would like to have a relationship with Apple to do that."

An Apple representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The public turnabout in Sun's positioning comes after Siress previously sketched a fairly cohesive strategy for releasing StarOffice. But the plan as outlined in the News.com story drew the ire of volunteer developers at OpenOffice.org, which is charged with release of an open-source version of StarOffice, called OpenOffice, for Mac OS X.

In an e-mail response the day the story was published, Ed Peterlin, one of the two developers working on OpenOffice, expressed shock.

"This took the entire OpenOffice.org community by surprise and could be the start of showing how Sun is willing to take advantage of the work of the OpenOffice.org community without giving acknowledgment when credit is due to the community," he wrote.

Castronovo also addressed the tone of Siress' mass e-mail to the developer community in the context of an apology.

"The intent of the note sent was to apologize for us taking credit for work done by the community, not to accuse CNET of misconduct," Castronovo said. "In no way do we accuse CNET of misconduct on this particular issue."

Cooperation juxtaposition
Indeed, Siress did acknowledge the work of volunteer developers in his original interview.

"A lot of this development work is taking place in OpenOffice.org," he said. But he also described his "meeting with Apple next week" and characterized the cooperation between the companies on StarOffice for OS X. "My engineers are working with Apple engineers. So it's not official. You can imagine--and I'll tell you this--Apple cannot unfairly support another ISV (independent software developer). They have to be fair. If they all of a sudden say we're going to help Sun in this porting," it could cause problems.

He described much of the early work under way between the two companies as relating to the user interface. "We're working with Apple to understand for the first release for OS X, if it's OK to keep the user interface we have today--and then start re-chroming the interface across the board," Siress said.

The Sun executive continued to describe an ongoing effort to work with Apple.

"We're about 30 days from having a plan," Siress said. "One of the things we didn't understand (was) all of Quartz (OS X's graphics engine), and the people at Apple didn't understand the infrastructure of StarOffice. That's all coming to a point where my engineering team has a far better understanding of Quartz and (the) Aqua (user interface). Apple, who has now been working in the StarOffice source code, has a far better understanding of the code base itself. What I am asking for is a plan, and one with teeth in it."

Siress described two development efforts: a version relying on Java instead of the x11 graphics used in OpenOffice, and another with Quartz.

"Now they're working on a Quartz implementation, and we're working on a Java implementation," he said. "So there's two efforts in alignment. The Java one will happen much faster. The Quartz one is the one you have long term."

The Sun executive also laid out a fairly clear timetable for an "OpenOffice running solid on OS X by the end of this calendar year. It wouldn't be productized yet, because there are things I need to work through with Apple--the business issues--first. The productization with the fonts, installers and all the kind of stuff is going to take a little more time."

He indicated some of those business issues revolved around the StarOffice user interface, which is consistent on the Windows, Linux and Solaris versions.

Siress also clearly identified the difference between the open-source version of the productivity suite and the one that Sun is developing.

"OpenOffice is the core; it's the same thing," he said. "Once OpenOffice is done, for me to productize it is easy. StarOffice is OpenOffice plus third-party non-open-source technology like fonts and things we have to license. Then we do the testing, packaging all the things you do about creating a product, not just a technology."

Siress also expressed his wish list for StarOffice, which would turn responsibility of the commercial product over to Apple.

"One of my recommendations was to take AppleWorks and merge it with StarOffice," he said. "So you have one productivity suite, and it has file compatibility across the board. Because what we bring to the table is our transcoder for Microsoft Office. What they bring is their knowledge and experience with the beautiful user interface. If we do this together maybe we can call it StarOffice for OS X, and it's exclusively distributed by Apple. That to me is the perfect story."

There apparently is a lot of interest at Sun in StarOffice for OS X because of the number of people who either use Apple PowerBook portables or would like to. Siress noted a number of people are forced to use Windows notebooks.

For this reason, "there is a synergy between Sun and Apple to get rid of Microsoft" at Sun, Siress said. "The one application that Sun needs to make the Apple laptop the standard at Sun is StarOffice. There's a benefit on both sides. The Apple team is very interested in making the Apple laptop the standard at Sun."