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, 24×7
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,

“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 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 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.