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Sun Guns for Archrival with StarOffice 6

Hoping to pry a few fingers from Microsoft Corp.'s seemingly iron-clad grip on the market for e-mail software, Sun Microsystems, Inc. Wednesday unveiled StarOffice 6 to compete with the Redmond, Wash. firm's ubiquitous Office product.

Slated to hit retail shelves May 21, the office productivity suite is geared to lure Microsoft consumers away from the popular Office product. In a time when Microsoft has been hammered for its licensing fees, Sun seeks to sway consumers by selling its new office suite for $75.95 in the U.S. The basic version of Office retails for $479.

Indeed, in a none-too-subtle shot at its Washington state rival, Sun's Mike Rogers, vice president and general manager of desktop and office productivity softwaresaid: "Our enterprise customers worldwide are asking for freedom of choice and we're giving it to them with StarOffice 6.0 -- freedom from restrictive licensing and freedom from unreasonable pricing and forced upgrades.

In its earlier incarnations, StarOffice was offered free and reaped more than eight million downloads. Sun will continue offering free office software through its open source project.

For the enterprise, Sun has a different pricing plan for StarOffice 6: a user-based model ranging from $50 to $25 based on volume.

StarOffice 6 has been around in some form or another for beta testers since October 2001, and when rumors spread in February 2002 that Sun was thinking of switching gears from its free, open-source versions of StarOffice to a money-making product, users wondered whether Sun would lose credibility in its repeated attacks on Microsoft for being anti-open source and greedy.

Others, though, such as Gartner Dataquest analyst Michael Silver, have lauded Sun's decision to charge for StarOffice and said the Palo Alto, Calif. concern could nab as much as 10 percent of Microsoft's Office market share.

Silver told InternetNews.com that the StarOffice vs. Office battle is starting to "hit the top of the hype cycle." He also said users will ultimately weigh migration costs from Office to the less expensive StarOffice 6 as a deciding factor.

"For a more casual user, we're looking at a $1,200 migration cost," Silver said. "Software is part of that, but there is also document conversion, training, and learning curves to consider."

Silver said we might not see a real challenge to Microsoft's Office stronghold for a couple of years, as products such as Office '97 and Office 2000 remain viable, and boast large installed user bases.

In a nutshell, StarOffice 6 allows the creation of documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the Linux, Solaris and Windows platforms. The suite uses an open Extensible Markup Language (XML) based file format as its default, enabling anyone the ability to use widely available tools to open, modify, and share StarOffice content -- including some with Microsoft's Office import and export filters.

StarOffice 6 will be available through Linux vendors, PC OEMs, software retailers, Sun's sales force and the StarOffice NOW program. OEMs such as Hyundai, MandrakeSoft, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux, and Ximian will bundle the application in their products.