SUN TAKES AIM AT MICROSOFT WITH STAROFFICE 6.0
Sun Microsystems launched its next-generation office suite, StarOffice 6.0, yesterday. The company hopes that StarOffice can eat into the market share of the dominant Microsoft Office suite, which controls about 95 percent of the market. The Sun product will cost $75.95, a small fraction of what Microsoft Office costs. But StarOffice includes a full-featured manual, support from Sun, and a five-user license that lets customers install one copy of the product on as many as five PCs. Sun also offers volume discounts for enterprise customers and StarOffice versions for Windows, Linux, and Sun Solaris.
"StarOffice 6.0 is a feedback-based release," a Sun representative said during a product briefing last month. "It's easier to pick up and learn than the previous version (StarOffice 5.2) and looks like a standard office suite. And of course any alternative office suite has to offer Microsoft Office compatibility. \[StarOffice's compatibility\] will never be 100 percent, which I think our customers understand, but StarOffice 6.0 does a good job making the conversion and lets you switch to a low-cost solution without leaving your documents and data behind."
Sun estimates that StarOffice has about 80 percent of Microsoft Office's functionality but stresses that it provides the feature set users need. The company realizes that many customers can't simply stop using Microsoft Office but believes that the low-cost StarOffice alternative will find a place sitting side-by-side with Microsoft Office installations in corporations. "The two suites can communicate back and forth," the Sun representative said. "For a typical user, StarOffice 6.0 will be enough, and 80 to 85 percent of office suite users are casual users. We suggest that customers find out what their users need, and if it's basic stuff, they should use StarOffice. Interoperability is the key."
StarOffice has several components, including StarOffice Writer (word processor), StarOffice Calc (spreadsheet), StarOffice Impress (presentation), StarOffice Draw (business graphics), and StarOffice Base (database). An alternative to Microsoft Outlook, which offers email and personal information management (PIM) capabilities, is notably missing. But Sun says that most users have already chosen full-featured applications in this category.
StarOffice is based on the OpenOffice.org 1.0 code base, although Sun's product offers several third-party tools not found in OpenOffice, including its database component, spell checker, WordPerfect filters, and other features. In addition, Sun fully supports StarOffice and provides packaging and documentation when customers purchase the product at retail; OpenOffice.org 1.0 is available as a free download from the Web only ( http://www.openoffice.org ). I'll review StarOffice on the SuperSite for Windows in early June.
MICROSOFT REMEDY HEARINGS: JUDGE GRILLS LAWYERS AS HEARINGS WIND DOWN
With witness testimony and cross-examination completed, the Microsoft remedy hearings continued on a slower schedule this week as Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly grilled each side in anticipation of Friday's closing arguments. The judge had some harsh comments for both Microsoft's and the nonsettling states' lawyers, noting at one point that Microsoft's continuing habit of commingling application code with Windows code is probably an "additional violation" of federal antitrust law. But Kollar-Kotelly also sought justification for the states' strong sanction requests, noting that Microsoft's proposed settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) appears to "cure the ill effects of commingling."
The judge noted yesterday that legal precedent gives her "broad powers" to impose sanctions against Microsoft. She said that she can impose such sanctions for acts the company performed outside the scope of the original antitrust trial, as long as those acts are the same "type or class" as the illegal acts the company was found guilty of.
And what about the controversial request that Microsoft be required to offer a modular Windows version in which customers could permanently remove--rather than simply hide--middleware applications from Windows? Lawyers for the nonsettling states argued that consumers need such a product because Microsoft was found guilty of deliberately and illegally commingling products to harm competitors. The only suitable punishment for this crime is a court order that requires Microsoft to remove commingled code from Windows, they said. "To us \[the code commingling\] is an unremedied ongoing violation," said states attorney Steve Kuney.
Kollar-Kotelly also addressed another controversial aspect of the remedy hearings in which the nonsettling states introduced evidence that Microsoft is continuing its illegal behavior in new markets for interactive set-top boxes, cell phones, and other technologies. Microsoft argued that the hearings are required to stick to the original complaints, but the states believe that this evidence demonstrates that the proposed DOJ settlement is ineffective because Microsoft has continued its illegal behavior. The judge wasn't so sure. Noting that the states' definition of emerging markets is fairly broad, she said, "It sounds as if any new technology \[could\] be presented as a threat \[to Windows\]." The judge is expected to issue a ruling sometime this summer.