StarOffice Giveaway Hits Europe, Africa

In its ongoing battle to put a dent in Microsoft’s
command of the market for word processing software, Sun Microsystems
on Tuesday extended the ambitious StarOffice giveaway program in schools
throughout Europe and South Africa.

Coming on the heels of similar giveaways of the StarOffice software to
education ministries in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Sun is making a bold
bid to cash in corporate customers unhappy with Microsoft’s move to
implement a new subscription-based software licensing policy.

The StarOffice
software is being billed as an alternative to Microsoft Office retails for
home users at $75.95, but it is free for educational institutions. Because
it interoperates with other desktop suites, including MS Office, Sun is
hoping to gain traction by engaging in a price war with the Redmond-based

According to published reports, the latest giveaways are estimated in the range of $650 million
and are expected to put StarOffice at the fingertips of more than 25 million
new users in elementary schools and colleges internationally.

Sun did not say if the giveaway would extend to schools in the U.S but
industry watchers believe it is a safe bet the company would make the move
to extend StarOffice to a young audience at home. StarOffice runs on Linux,
Solaris and Windows operating systems.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun, which specializes in network computing and
generates the bulk of its revenues from the sale of UNIX-based servers, has
styled StarOffice as a multi-platform office suite with word processing,
spreadsheet, presentation, Web-publishing and database applications that can
work for both large corporate customers and domestic users.

It is not the first time a Microsoft competitor has moved swiftly to make
hay in the word processing space. In August, Corel Corp. launched its own licensing arrangement to snag customers for
its WordPerfect suite of applications, which provides Microsoft
Office-comparable and -compatible applications.

Corel’s new licensing
doesn’t have volume commitments and, more importantly, doesn’t
require an annual fee to upgrade. Not surprisingly, Corel announced its
program on the same day Microsoft’s Software Assurance program launched.

Microsoft announced it would scrap the system of licensing agreements that
consists of five different ways to buy upgrades in favor of a unified
program that charges customers 25 percent of the license fee for server
software and 29 percent for desktop software on an annual basis. It lets
customers get guaranteed maintenance of their software, much like the system
used for mainframes.

The move created a stir among customers, who view the new licensing plan as
confusing and designed to wring more money out of them.

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