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Commentary: StarOffice is now more viable

The decision by Sun Microsystems to charge for StarOffice 6.0 increases the viability of its office suite, which has almost no installed base but offers promise.

By Michael Silver, Gartner analyst

A decision by Sun Microsystems to charge for StarOffice 6.0 increases the viability of an office suite that has almost no installed base yet may still pose the greatest threat to Microsoft Office.

See news story:
Sun software divisions making changes
Many enterprises use the same version of Office companywide to standardize desktops. However, enterprises now realize that most workers consume information but don't create it, so they don't use more than 20 percent of the features in Office. At the same time, changes in Microsoft's license policy could force some customers to pay twice as much for the next version. Enterprises looking for alternative suites may eventually find one in StarOffice 6.0, which will likely become available in the second quarter.

Sun has built "mind share" from the open-source initiative and from earlier versions of StarOffice, which millions of users have downloaded free. However, few enterprises have converted to the suite's Windows version, and Gartner remains skeptical of the business model for free office software. If StarOffice becomes a profitable business for Sun, enterprises will incur less risk and be more assured of the product's longevity.

Gartner believes that Sun will set a retail price for StarOffice of less than $100, and volume pricing will run $25 to $75--all considerably less than the prices for Microsoft Office. (Schools will still be able to get StarOffice for just the cost of materials.) Sun will likely also offer lower prices for StarOffice licensees to upgrade to future versions.

Finally, Sun will market StarOffice more aggressively. Unless Microsoft makes major concessions on licensing and pricing for Office, by the end of 2004, Gartner believes that StarOffice may gain as much as 10 percent of the market at Microsoft Office's expense.

Improved compatibility with Microsoft Office may make StarOffice good enough for certain users. Sun contends that StarOffice 6.0 will read and write many typical documents (word processing, spreadsheet and presentation) with ease. Thus, StarOffice may represent a good choice for enterprises with large numbers of users consuming mostly simple documents.

(For a related commentary on Microsoft Office and .Net, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.