Tech Industry

Is StarOffice for everyone?

Sun Microsystems executive Tony Siress says the upcoming release of StarOffice 6.0 will answer any questions about the product's ability to compete against Microsoft Office.

Editor's note: On Sept. 5, CNET News.com ran a column by Guernsey Research analyst Chris LeTocq questioning whether Sun's software was ready to take on Microsoft Office. The following is Sun's reply.

With the rising cost of office-productivity software, many small businesses are asking themselves whether investing in yet another upgrade is really necessary. And tight budgets are causing school districts to wonder whether there's an alternative to the pricey software they thought was so essential.

With the start of the beta review process for StarOffice 6.0 right around the corner and general availability expected early in the new year, these customers could find their alternative in an office suite from Sun Microsystems.

StarOffice is aimed at cost-constrained customers who want a full-featured office productivity suite while retaining compatibility with Microsoft Office files or, more importantly, who want to put their money into revenue-generating projects rather than office software. That's why small businesses, home offices, educational and government organizations, and consumers are receptive to the value of StarOffice.

The customer considering StarOffice 6.0 needs to answer a few questions. First, how cost sensitive are you? For many, such as home users, schools, governments and small businesses, a $699 computer is still a lot of money. Paying several hundred more for upgrades every 18 months is just not a realistic option--especially when the value of the new features continues to decrease.

Second, are you in or considering a multi-platform environment? If the Solaris or Linux operating systems are part of your environment or plans, then you'll want to be able to read Microsoft Office files as they come from outside the organization, but you'll want your internal efforts to use the same productivity technology. One of the core strengths of StarOffice is the ability to maintain the same experience and interoperability across multiple platforms with the best filters for reading Microsoft office files.

Third, are you able to take advantage of a product with an open-sourced technology base? StarOffice is based on the OpenOffice.org project. While this might not matter to everyone, many people are reassured that the open-source base of the software means that no single company dominates the direction and developments. In addition, it gives participating organizations the ability to customize their office software to their own specifications.

Fourth, are you locked into a single company's office-productivity experience? While there's a vast difference between a replacement and an alternative, most people today value the benefits of having a choice. For some, however, the choice has been made, and the costs of switching are too great. Although there's little sense in evaluating StarOffice now, for these customers, it may be a future option.

Taking on Microsoft
Although Sun has not historically targeted businesses that already use Microsoft Office, many of Microsoft's customers, unhappy with the current licensing strategy, have approached Sun for office-productivity technology. The challenge of migration lies with file conversion and Microsoft's proprietary, non-documented macros. If customers have macros embedded in their files, we cannot convert them, and they must be recreated in StarOffice--a significant investment to a large business. However, the price of Microsoft's expensive and repetitive licensing model could more than offset this expenditure.

The enhancements we're planning for StarOffice are straightforward and based on the premise that people are seeking usability improvements, not new features they'll never use. In StarOffice 6.0 we'll deliver the following:

• XML file formats, which will give portability, interoperability and smaller file sizes

• Compatibility with native desktop environments--removal of the integrated desktop

• A revamped and simplified Help structure

• Improved Microsoft Office compatibility, especially with TrueType fonts

• New templates, clip art and graphics

• Asian-language support to deliver StarOffice functionality to key markets

By adding Asian-language functionality in Japanese, Korean and Chinese dialects, StarOffice caters to the unique demands of countries wary of installing Microsoft Office. China, for example, has taken steps to embrace Linux, which would enable customers to take advantage of both the economic benefit of StarOffice and the resources of an open-source environment.

Sun originally acquired StarOffice to provide its Solaris operating environment customers first-rate office-productivity software and to bring this technology to a broader market in exciting new ways. Not only has Sun been successful with its Solaris operating system customers, but StarOffice is the leading office suite for the Linux marketplace.

Sun recognizes that office productivity will soon be needed as a Web service on demand. Customers will want to increase the number of places and devices from which they can access their files and documents. With the Sun One Webtop technology, Sun is bringing office productivity to a broad range of devices in significant new ways.