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Sun Unveils Latest StarOffice

Sun Microsystems this week released a new version of its StarOffice business software suite, selling for the cut-rate price of $70. The competitor to Microsoft Office is touting features including "seamless compatibility with Microsoft Office," support for XForms XML-based forms and lots of ease-of-use improvements.

The release may turn out to be perfect timing for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has proposed that the state standardize on the OASIS OpenDocument format, which StarOffice supports. The 30-day comment period on the state's proposal has just ended and dozens, if not hundreds, of comments posted on the state Web site are running heavily in favor of the move.

The StarOffice 8 Office Suite consists of Writer, Impress, Calc, Draw and Base.

Sun claims 52 million cumulative downloads of StarOffice and its open-source sibling OpenOffice.org. But the new features the company is promoting most heavily tacitly acknowledge the challenges of pushing a product in a market that already has a dominant player in Microsoft Office.

Sun's 52 million downloads over the years stack up poorly against Microsoft's sales. During a meeting for financial analysts in July, Microsoft claimed it had 63 million new and renewed Office licenses in fiscal year 2005, which ended June 30. "We sell more Office licenses or Office solutions per week than OpenOffice and StarOffice combined do those kinds of solutions in a year," Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, which includes Office, said during the July meeting.

Price is one big selling point for StarOffice. Customers can download a trial version for free and use it for 90 days before paying the $70 sticker price. Enterprise pricing is much lower -- with tiered per-user pricing starting at $35 per user or $25 per user for upgrades.

By comparison, the least expensive Office suite -- the Student and Teacher edition that includes only Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Excel -- retails for $150. The same software for businesses, in the Standard Edition, starts at $400 new and $240 for an upgrade. Volume licensing prices are obviously much less, but even the largest organization would be hard-pressed to get Microsoft anywhere near $25 per desktop. Microsoft justifies its price premium with several arguments, including ease-of-use, end-user productivity and tight integration among suite components and with a growing number of server products.

Sun's effort to make StarOffice 8 more compatible with Microsoft's market gorilla include:

  • Enhanced import and export filters for word processing files, spreadsheets, and presentations
  • A 65,536 row limit in the Calc spreadsheet application allows for importing larger Excel files
  • Transition and animation improvements in Impress to make presentations synchronize with PowerPoint effects
  • More drawing shapes to match AutoShapes in Microsoft Office
  • A Macro Migration Wizard in the StarOffice 8 Enterprise Edition to convert Visual Basic macros to the StarOffice Basic macro language.

    Other new features include a multi-paned user interface, support for the new OASIS OpenDocument file format, the XForms support and the ability to convert files directly into PDF format.

    Paul Desmond contributed to this report.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.