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Sun readies StarOffice subscription plan

The company will next month start a program that lets Japanese consumers buy Sun's productivity software in one-year chunks.

Sun Microsystems plans to sell Japanese customers a subscription version of its StarOffice productivity software, Sun executives announced Thursday.

StarOffice is a package that combines a word processor, spreadsheet application and other common office tools. It primarily competes with Microsoft's dominant Office package and OpenOffice, open-source software derived from StarOffice.

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To date, Sun has primarily distributed the software through traditional retail and volume licensing outlets at a flat price of around $70. But starting next month, Japanese consumers will be able to buy a one-year license to use StarOffice for about $19 (1,980 yen), Sun executives announced at a press event in Tokyo Thursday.

At the end of the year, the customer can renew the license for another year or stop using the software, which will become unusable once the license expires.

Subscriptions will be offered through Sourcenext, Sun's main Japanese distributor for StarOffice, which is called StarSuite in the country. Sourcenext already offers hundreds of consumer programs--everything from games to mapping utilities--on similar annual plans. The programs are sold in retail outlets, convenience stores and via an online download store.

Peter Ulander, a desktop products manager for Sun, said Sourcenext's subscription program offers a consumer variation on Sun's subscription-based Java Desktop System, in which Sun provides a set of desktop software at an annual cost of $100 per computer of $50 per employee.

"It very much lines up with what Sun is already doing today," Ulander said, adding that he expects StarOffice subscriptions similar to the Japanese plan to be offered in other regions. "We're looking for the right retailers and reseller partner to deploy that. We think Japan will be a great case study for us."

Sun began giving away StarOffice in 1999 in hopes of eroding Microsoft's dominance on desktop PCs. To date, the software has made little headway against Microsoft Office, with Sun mainly fighting for market share against Corel's competing WordPerfect.

Sun hopes to boost StarOffice, however, with a new desktop computing strategy that uses the package as a key element in creating a low-cost alternative to Windows PCs.

CNET Japan contributed to this report.