Sun Microsystems launched its next-generation office suite, StarOffice 6.0, Wednesday. The company hopes that StarOffice 6.0 can eat into the market share of the dominant office suite, Microsoft Office, which controls about 95 percent of the market. StarOffice 6.0 will cost $75.95, a small fraction of the cost of Microsoft Office. But StarOffice also includes a full featured manual, support from Sun, and a five-user license, allowing customers to install one copy of the product on up to five PCs. Sun is also offering volume discounts to enterprise customers, and offers StarOffice versions for Linux and Solaris, in addition to Windows.
"StarOffice 6.0 is a feedback-based release," a Sun representative told me 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. It 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 6.0 has about 80 percent of the functionality of Microsoft Office, but stresses that it covers the feature-set users actually need. The company realizes that many customers can't simply leave Microsoft Office, but believes that the low-cost StarOffice alternative will find a place in corporations, sitting side-by-side with Microsoft Office installs. "The two suites can communicate back and forth," the Sun representative told me. "For a typical user, StarOffice 6.0 will be enough, and 80-85 percent of office suite users are casual users. We suggest that customers find out what their users need, and if its basic stuff, then they should use StarOffice. Interoperability is the key."
StarOffice 6.0 consists of several components, including StarOffice Writer (word processing), StarOffice Calc (spreadsheet), StarOffice Impress (presentation), StarOffice Draw (business graphics), and StarOffice Base (database). Notably missing is an alternative to Microsoft Outlook, which offers email and personal information management (PIM) capabilities; Sun says that most users have already chosen full-featured applications in this category, however.
StarOffice 6.0 is based on the OpenOffice.org 1.0 code-base, though Sun's product offers several third party tools not found in OpenOffice, including its database component, spell checker, WordPerfect filters, and other features. Also, Sun supports StarOffice and offers packaging and documentation when customers purchase the product at retail; OpenOffice.org 1.0 is available for free download from the Web only.
I'll be reviewing StarOffice 6.0 on the SuperSite for Windows in early June.