RealTime IT News

Sun Sees StarOffice on More Euro Desktops

By Ron Miller

Sun Microsystems is looking for room to grow on European desktops, thanks to a deal with German OEM player Markement, which it said has sold more than one million copies of Sun's StarOffice productivity suite in the past year.

Announced as the annual CEBIT technology trade show kicked off in Hanover, Germany, the Markement deal is seen by Sun as a sign that its desktop office suite is making strides in markets outside the United States.

Markement sells StarOffice to PC manufacturers such Siemens and Acer, and is part of package called PC Suite that is sold in retail outlets mostly in Germany.

"The milestone is significant because it reinforces the message that StarOffice is gaining significant momentum in the market," Manish Punjabi, StarOffice managing director said.

It also comes as Microsoft readies to hear the next phase of penalties next week in the antitrust case brought by the European Commission over the company's business practices regarding its Windows operating system.

Sun's new version of StarOffice 7, which sells for about 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.

The hope from Sun's point of view is to win over customers -- namely, Microsoft customers that may be frustrated with licensing policies or security issues. But Tom Murphy, an analyst with MetaGroup, wonders if Sun's offering is enough to convince enterprises to make a switch, especially in organizations where Microsoft has been entrenched for years and there is an entire infrastructure built around customizing its Office productivity suite.

"While customers may be dissatisfied with Microsoft, they also have a significant investment around Microsoft, and their employees are already trained to use the software," Murphy said. "If they are using Microsoft Office with customization and applications built on top of Office or Outlook and they've done integration and all of these customizations, it's going to be difficult to convince them to change."

To help ease the migration decision that would accompany a potential StarOffice sale, Sun is also offering a utility that will convert Office macros written in Visual Basic to Star Basic, the StarOffice scripting language. Sun's Punjabi said many organizations are at least looking at StarOffice when their Microsoft licenses expire. Before they can be convinced to switch, they want to know how hard and how expensive migration is going to be.

"Migration is a big question on people's minds. Rather than trying to manually convert macros, you can point to a macro directory and convert them to Star Office Macros," he said.

Punjabi said they are also working on a tool to help organizations assess the cost of migration with their goal being reducing the cost of conversion and easing any pain associating with switching.

StarOffice/OpenOffice along with the Java Desktop operating system and the Looking Glass project (a 3D Linux desktop still in development) are all part of a larger initiative by Sun to develop a desktop software strategy. While Tom Murphy believes that Star Office and Java Desktop are still part of an overall strategy by Sun to sell hardware systems, namely thin clients, Punjabi said the suite represents a shift in the company's overall strategy.

"Sun management does believe that desktop products can help Sun capture more of the market and become a stronger player," Punjabi said. "It's not just about software or hardware. It's about selling a system. Customers want a solution. StarOffice is available as starting point because we think people are looking for alternatives," Punjabi said.

Sun also recently announced that United India Insurance Company (UIIC), one of the largest insurers in India, planned to replace 10,000 Microsoft Office desktops in more than 1,000 UIIC offices with StarOffice software.

The latest Germany sales arrive as Sun works to improve its financial outlook. Earlier this month credit rating firm Standard & Poors lowered its bond rating to BB+, considered junk status. Sun, however, still boasts more than $5 billion in cash and securities.

"You have to put everything in perspective," Punjabi added. "We are fundamentally still a strong company. We have a very strong balance sheet and strong management. And the fact of the matter is the company has withstood the test of time."