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Sun to open source code for office software

The company will open the source code of its Star Office software Wednesday, but a major new version of the product has been delayed.

Sun Microsystems will open the source code of its Star Office software Wednesday under a generally accepted licensing method, but a major new version of the product has been delayed.

The office application suite--which includes a word processor, spreadsheet and other programs--competes with Microsoft Office. But Sun has more of its attention focused on a future version that will run on central servers, with users tapping in over the Internet using PCs, handheld gadgets or other types of clients.

This Web-enabled version, called Star Portal, was expected this spring but now won't arrive until fall, spokesman Russ Castronovo said. The new version currently is in beta testing, he said.

Sun will release the desktop version under the Gnu General Public License and its relative, the Library General Public License, a source familiar with the plan said. The two licenses, created by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, are the bedrock of many open-source projects, including Linux.

The release is timed to occur at the same time as the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Monterey, Calif.

The desktop version of Star Office, popular among Linux users and available as a free download, is the result of Sun's 1999 acquisition of Star Division. The $73.5 million acquisition gave Sun a way to undermine the connection between Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office suite, the so-called applications barrier to entry that is part of the monopoly suit against Microsoft.

Sun has run into trouble before when trying to benefit from the enthusiasm of the open-source world. While much of the software world has settled on the GPL, the open-source license that governs use of Linux, Sun has created a variety of licenses that resemble it but aren't quite the real thing.

Center In particular, Sun ran into criticism of its Community Source License, under which Sun's Java and Jini software is released. That license allows people to scrutinize and modify source code, but Sun keeps firm control of the software overall.

Sun also released its Forte Java programming software under the Mozilla public licence, a license that has received the blessing of the Open Source Initiative.

Star Office doesn't just compete with Microsoft Office. Applix is in the process of spinning off a new company, VistaSource, that sells an office suite that also works on Linux, Windows and several other platforms.

VistaSource, like Sun and Microsoft, is readying a Web-enabled version of its software.

Another competitor is Corel, which has an office suite for Linux but is struggling financially.