RealTime IT News

StarOffice Wins More Enterprise Desktop Space

In its latest bid to slow the Microsoft Office juggernaut, Sun Microsystems is offering a couple more reasons for enterprise users to jump to its StarOffice platform.

The release comes on the heels of news that one of the largest insurers in India is replacing about 10,000 Microsoft Office desktops with StarOffice software.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker Wednesday issued its first Solaris OS x86 version of its StarOffice 7 software for purchase. The open-source based business software suite does all the same things as its Windows counterpart: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, except that StarOffice works on the Linux, Solaris and Windows platforms.

Sun also differentiates itself in that the platform 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.

The new version of StarOffice 7 (USD$79.95 retail) includes 60-day support and PDF and Flash export capabilities. The Enterprise Edition of StarOffice, which adds an enterprise configuration and management tool and a software development kit ranges from $60 per-user for 25 users to $25 per-user for 10,000 users.

Putting some proof in its pudding, Sun said it has signed a deal with United India Insurance Company (UIIC), one of the largest insurers in India to replace 10,000 Microsoft Office desktops in more than 1,000 UIIC offices with StarOffice software. Sun said ACCEL ICIM Systems & Services Limited, a Sun iForce partner in India, will provide systems integration services, 24x7 support and offer software upgrades and updates for four years. The deal is similar to Sun contracts with other global companies in India such as Onesource, National Fertlisers, Apnaloan.com.

"We selected Sun's StarOffice 7 software because it matches our technical specifications and it is very competitively priced," UIIC assistant general manager of Information Technology S.M. John Victor said in a statement.

It's not the first time that plucky Sun has robbed the Redmond, Wash.-based giant of some of its market share with desktop productivity products.

Recently, Sun announced a multi-million dollar deal with Japanese computer products distributor SOURCENEXT to provide the Japanese version of StarOffice, StarSuite 7, to some 15,000 retail locations in Japan and via Internet downloads. As a key part of its Java Desktop Platform, Sun has also distributed massive amounts of StarOffice to China, Britain and Israel through government contracts.

As of last month, Sun said the number of cumulative downloads for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org exceeded 40 million. Furthermore, Sun saw more than half a million registered Solaris OS x86 licenses in 2003 and said it is actively working with key partners and business application vendors to make sure it doesn't lose momentum.

"The reality is that customers are looking for a better business proposition to do more with less. UIIC can now focus on its business and core competencies -- not on restrictive licensing models and escalating desktop costs," said Sun vice president of software Jonathan Schwartz.

Analysts such as Gartner Dataquest's Michael Silver have lauded Sun's decision to charge for StarOffice. He estimates the company could nab as much as 10 percent of Microsoft's Office market share with the move.

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 as a deciding factor.

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

And despite the traction, Silver said Sun has a long way to go to oust Microsoft from its position on corporate desktops.

"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," Silver said.

"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."

Sun said it is planning to offer the Java Desktop System for the Solaris OS x86 platform later this year. Most of the pieces are already in place. Currently, applications such as Mozilla 1.6, incorporating the Firebird Web browser, Thunderbird e-mail and newsgroup client, and Macromedia Flash are supported on the Solaris platform. Sun boasts there are more than 100 desktops and laptops listed on the Solaris x86 hardware compatibility list.