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Sun Edges Closer to Solaris 9 OS, Debuts StarOffice 6.0

Software developers who are fans of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris operating system (or "environment," as the firm calls it) can test it before it goes public, the company said Tuesday.

Palo Alto, Calif.'s Sun launched Solaris 9 Developer Early Access software as the first beta of its Solaris 9 Operating Environment -- the firm's newest Unix server software, which is slated for commercial release this January.

As with other access programs, developers can sign up to evaluate Solaris 9 OE software and test their applications on the new operating environment to get a jump on any input or feedback they may have for the company. The comments would help Sun more, really, as the outfit would be able to tinker with the code if a consensus is reached that something should be altered for the better.

While Solaris 9 remains true to the "Network is the Computer" strategy that Sun holds dearly, Microsoft Corp., whose servers have taken much criticism in recent months (Windows 2000, SQL) for bugs that have slipped by, is preparing its own Web services offensive, called .Net. In fact, its .NET Enterprise Server functions -- server applications for building, deploying, and managing next-generation tasks -- are described much the way Solaris 9 has been.

The application battles between Microsoft and Sun should remain interesting; just last week Sun said it was spearheading the Liberty Alliance Project, a task featuring more than 30 companies who want to create an open standard for digital identity. The move seemed targeted at Microsoft, which has ruffled the feathers of consumer privacy advocates with its Passport identity feature, a detail that stores users' personal information.

Sun Tuesday also announced the beta version of its StarOffice 6.0 business productivity suite, which as some may guess from the name and description is Sun's answer to Microsoft Corp.'s popular Office product. Like Solaris 9, it is slated for release in early 2002.

Featuring pretty much what Microsoft Office offers, including word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, Web-publishing, charting, formula-editing and database applications, StarOffice runs on Solaris, Linux and even Microsoft Windows machines, including the pending XP.

Sun devised StarOffice to appeal to small businesses, educational institutions, government and enterprises with multi-platform needs or budget constraints. Analysts have said that while there is no denying Microsoft Office's popularity, that some institutions may consider StarOffice instead because of its open-source foundation vis-à-vis OpenOffice.org; users won't have to worry about licensing strategies and no one company can control its developments. As such, one can imagine how popular it is with Linux lovers.

Another key attraction of its StarOffice 6.0, is that it is designed to simplify the user experience and improve ease of file exchange through the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) as the default file format, allowing those with the training to open, edit and save StarOffice files. XML, a natural extension of HTML, is the most flexible way to create common information formats on the Web.

Thus far, 17,000 customers have registered for the StarOffice 6.0 beta program.