Sun considers charging for StarOffice

Sun Microsystems is evaluating the pricing plan for its StarOffice desktop productivity suite, and one option under consideration is charging users for the software.

Sun Microsystems is evaluating the pricing plan for its StarOffice desktop productivity suite, and one option under consideration is charging users for the software.

StarOffice 5.2 is available as a free download or on a CD for a nominal fee. The Cupertino, Calif., company is not sure that this is the way to go when it releases the final version of StarOffice 6.0 in the second quarter of next year, however.

Nancy Lee, Suns product line manager for SunONE Webtop, told eWeek on Wednesday that some enterprise customers who were considering deploying StarOffice had expressed concern about free status of the software.

"They were concerned about what this might indicate about our long-term commitment to the product," she said. "But the open source and Linux communities would like us to continue to offer the product for free. We are listening to all sorts of customer feedback and no decision has been made in this regard as yet."

Iyer Venkatesan, the product line manager for StarOffice, said that whatever decision is made on the pricing front, StarOffice would remain the most cost-effective desktop productivity suite available.

Also today, in a significant win for the growth of open source desktop productivity suites in China, Sun announced that it has signed agreements with three Chinese software companies to bundle StarSuite—the Chinese-branded version of StarOffice—as part of their Linux platform offerings.

The three Chinese software firms are CS&S Network Technology Co., Red Flag Software Co., and Beijing Co-Create Open Source Software Co. They will license and bundle StarSuite as part of their Linux operating platform, which they in turn license to computer vendors and sell through retail and other channels.

The OEMs will initially be bundling the beta code for StarSuite 6.0, ahead of its final release in the second quarter of next year, Venkatesan said, adding that the companies would all be working on the future development and deployment of the StarSuite line of products.

StarSuite, developed through the open source OpenOffice.org project, is a full-featured, multi-platform software suite that includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. It supports AutoPilot Web page design software, 3D graphics, diagrams, HTML editing, charting, complex formula editing, photo editing and other applications.

Version 6.0, the first version of the product from Sun to include contributions from the open source community, includes XML file format specifications, making file sharing far easier.

"The Chinese IT industry is paying very close attention to the development of the Linux operating system. Enriching its upper layer application software will accelerate the development of the Linux platform," he said.

Bo Liu, president and CEO of Red Flag Software Co., Ltd., said that he was confident StarSuite would help push the development of Linux office applications. "As Linux use continues to grow and as it enters more industries, we look forward to cooperating with partners like Sun to deliver better solutions to our customers," he said.

Suns Venkatesan said China also had a high rate of illegal software usage, but recent crackdowns could drive usage of more affordable software like StarSuite. A study by the China Economic Performance Monitoring Centre showed that fewer than one in 10 residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou used legitimate software and audio-video products, he said.

Chinas National Copyright Administration also recently began cracking down on pirated software, with authorities destroying 20-million illegal CDs in over 200 cities two weeks ago. The fact that Chinas corporate and government workers were now facing more stringent policing was expected to lead to greater adoption of legitimate, low-cost software, he said.

There had been some 700.000 downloads of the StarOffice 6.0 beta thus far, with about 10 percent of these being the Asian language version. "This is a good sign for user adoption going forward," Venkatesan said.