Sun Ponders ‘Per Citizen’ Pricing for Desktops

SAN FRANCISCO — When Sun Microsystems said it was
going to charge $100 per employee/per year for its Java Enterprise platform,
critics called it a radical move to win market share.

Now the Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker is considering
doing the same thing on more of a sliding scale for its upcoming Java
Desktop System (formally known as Mad Hatter), which includes its recently
released StarOffice 7 application.

Sun is not expected to deliver the Linux-based platform for a couple more
weeks even though most of the pieces are already in place including
StarOffice, the Mozilla open source browser, Evolution e-mail client,
RealNetworks’ RealONE player and Macromedia Flash. The operating system also
includes Looking Glass, a new visualization interface that lets users surf
around in interactive 3D-like environments.

Company Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz Thursday said the
appetite outside U.S. for an alternative to Microsoft is “voracious”.

“We are looking at relationships with government, non-profits,” he told
press and analysts during his Quarterly Software Town Hall here. “Pricing
will likely vary by GDP. You have to charge a little differently to serve
the needs of people in El Salvador opposed to Germany.”

Schwartz said charging a yearly fee of below $20 per person (perhaps
below $10 in high-volume situations) would be appropriate. Countries would
also be able to decide how much of the Java Desktop System would be

The Software czar is so confident in his product, Schwartz said
StarOffice would help the Java Desktop division break even in the next few

“The fact that we have reinvented the business around Java really should
give you some indication of what direction we are taking this, he said. “The
days of fueling industry standards for the benefit of the Internet are not
gone. We will make the investments to run the long-term company.”

One of those major investments is StarOffice 7 software. The standalone
release (USD$79.95) hit store shelves late Wednesday and is available
through retailers and e-tailers including, Best Buy, Circuit
City, CompUSA, Frys, Micro Center, Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples.
Sun has also tapped Digital River to help facilitate online sales and

Designed to compete with Microsoft Office, Sun’s StarOffice is an
open-source based, comprehensive office productivity suite that runs on
Solaris, Windows and Linux and is compatible with Microsoft Office file
formats. The platform includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation,
drawing and database capabilities. Sun said key new features include direct
Adobe PDF and Flash export capabilities, Microsoft Office file format
compatibility, native XML support, performance and stability enhancements,
accessibility and an improved look and feel. Still, analysts say Sun has a
long way to go to outsmart, outplay and outlast the giant in Redmond.

“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,” Gartner Vice President and Research Director Michael Silver
told “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.”

Silver said Sun still has some opportunities in this country, especially
with users still running Office 97. Back in January, Microsoft said it would
end all support for Office 97. Silver said these users will certainly feel
increasing pressure to move to a newer, supported product.

In addition to its desktop product, Sun is poised to official release its
J2EE 1.4. Schwartz said when the software ships next week, it will serve as
the company’s official Applications Server (version 8) and will officially
fuse WS-I compatible Web services with the existing Java App Server. The
software will include Sun’s specific reference implementation, but unlike
offerings from IBM, BEA or JBoss, the company is looking to give OEMs a head
start on developing their own programs.

“Anybody can get our application server,” Schwartz said. “Neither IBM or
BEA use our implementation. We’re going to do about 3 million downloads of
this version putting our customers in the position of having an advantage.”

On the horizon, Schwartz said Sun will make an announcement at its show
in Berlin next month showing additional support for Java Cards and SIM

Sun’s other anticipated announcement next week will show how far the
company has committed itself to supporting AMD’s Opteron processors.

“Solaris on Intel, Opteron and SPARC will give us an advantage,” Schwarz
said. If we were to ship Opteron Hardware it would put pressure on Intel to
bring out its Yamhill chip,” he said. “As soon as they play that card, it
makes it more difficult for them to sell Itanium-based systems.”