RealTime IT News

Sun Rings Up StarOffice Deal In Japan

Chalk up another win for Sun Microsystems' push to the desktop.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker signed a deal this week with Sourcenext, Japan's largest computer products distributor, to put Sun's StarSuite 7 Office Productivity Suite on store shelves and available for download though distribution sites. Sun said its StarSuite 7 software will also be available nationwide in Japan through expanded channels including home electronic, convenience and bookstores.

The multi-million dollar agreement will put StarSuite, the Japanese version of StarOffice, in as many as 15,000 Japanese retail locations.

The pricing is unique in that it fulfills Sun Executive Vice President of Software Jonathan Schwartz's prophecy that StarOffice could be sold by a retailer to an individual on an annual subscription basis. SOURCENEXT's agreement with Sun is to sell StarSuite 7 software for an annual subscription fee of 1,980 Yen (less than USD$20) beginning Feb. 5, 2004. SOURCENEXT also has the rights to sell StarSuite 7 without an annual subscription fee for 9800 Yen (less than USD$100). The standalone product does not come with unlimited support and upgrades.

"Around the world we're seeing strong demand for a low-cost, multi-platform office productivity alternative," Schwartz said in a statement. "Working with companies like SOURCENEXT provides consumers access to the StarSuite 7 software at a price that's a true industry breakthrough."

In the U.S., StarOffice 7 retails at $79.95 with included 60-day customer support. Sun offers the word processor/spreadsheet/presentation platform as part of its Java Desktop software, which it licenses to companies at an annual cost of $100 per employee. While Microsoft Office is usually included in the cost of a PC, standalone versions retail for approximately $400.

In addition to beating out Microsoft in price, Sun said its advantage with StarOffice is that it is an open-source based platform that runs on Solaris, Windows and Linux and is compatible with Microsoft Office file formats. The latest version also includes direct Adobe PDF and Flash export capabilities, and native XML support.

Sun has been working hard at making these deals with retailers and governments. Executives with the network computer maker have told internetnews.com they have been on the road several weeks out of the month for the last few months shaking hands with e-tailers including Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Frys, Micro Center, Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples. Sun has also closed deals with the Chinese and British governments.

Still, analysts say Sun has a long way to go to outsmart, outplay and outlast the giant in Redmond.

"The three most important items when competing against Microsoft Office are compatibility, compatibility, and compatibility. Enterprises need to decide how compatible is compatible enough, because StarOffice will never be 100 percent," Gartner Vice President and Research Director Michael Silver told internetnews.com in a recent interview. "Even new versions of MS Office aren't 100 percent compatible with older ones, but StarOffice does not support VBA macros and some other features of MS Office. A document created in MS Office and opened in StarOffice may not look exactly the same. For most users, it will be good enough, but for users with documents with complex formatting that must be retained with true fidelity, it may not be."

Silver said Sun still has some opportunities in this country, especially with users still running Office 97. Back in January, Microsoft said it would end all support for Office 97. Silver said these users will certainly feel increasing pressure to move to a newer, supported product.