Sun Microsystems Inc.s decision to start charging users for its upcoming StarOffice 6.0 desktop office productivity suite is coming at a price: Linux sales and service company Red Hat Inc. has decided not to use StarOffice 6.0 in any of its distributions going forward.
Red Hat is a leading distributor of Linux desktop and server software, and its rejection of StarOffice 6.0 cuts out a major Linux distribution channel for Sun and comes just as the company prepares to release the Office product later this month.
Sun, based in Santa Clara, Calif., finally decided in March that Version 6.0 would not be offered as a free download.
While StarOffice has traditionally been included in the major desktop and server Linux distributions from leading vendors like Red Hat, SuSE and Mandrake Linux, the fact that Sun is now charging for the product has dramatically altered those agreements.
Melissa London, a spokeswoman for Red Hat, said the company will not ship StarOffice 6.0 in its soon-to-be-released next-version distribution or any others going forward, not just because of the charge but also because it includes non-open-source technologies.
StarOffice 6.0 contains third-party technologies that Sun has licensed for its own proprietary use and that are not available under any open-source license, a restriction that would compromise Red Hat customers and "we are simply not going to let that happen," she said.
"We will continue to ship StarOffice 5.2 until we find a comparable or better open technology solution and will continue to look at our options, like Openoffice.org and others, in this regard," she said.
Holger Dyroff, who heads SuSEs operations in the United States from Oakland, said that while the German-based company is committed to shipping StarOffice 6.0, it has made no decision going forward "as to what form that will take or in what product it will be shipped," he said.
SuSE recently shipped the latest version of its Linux operating system, SuSE Linux 8.0, with the current StarOffice 5.2 and not 6.0. Dyroff said the primary reason for this was the difference in their respective release timeframes.
"At the point that we started thinking about the final release of 8.0 we didnt feel that StarOffice 6.0 would be available to us when we did the master for the product. As such, we didnt include it in our planning," he said.
But the fact that Sun is going to start charging for StarOffice 6.0 will be a consideration going forward. "We plan to come out with an offer that will allow our customers to buy StarOffice 6.0 for SuSE Linux 8.0 and will come out with a release on that in a few weeks," he said.
Exactly how SuSE will deal with the inclusion of StarOffice 6.0 into its Linux distributions beyond 8.0 is unclear at this point. "We are thinking about the impact of this and have not made any final decisions as yet," Dyroff said.
StarOffice 6 Deals in the Works
Nancy Lee, the group marketing manager for office productivity at Sun, told eWEEK that the company is working with a number of Linux vendors to sign up for StarOffice 6.0. "Linux vendors are looking at the midtier and enterprise market, and StarOffice is a good way for them to get in there," she said.
While she declined to discuss the status of its negotiations with the major vendors like SuSE and Red Hat, Lee said Linux users and vendors can also choose to include the Openoffice.org office productivity suite released this week, which is free and which shares the same code base as StarOffice 6.0.
"Were not limiting our channels, as both products have the same open-source code base and customers now have options. When we were considering our new pricing model, we developed a tiered pricing model, and we will work with enterprises and OEMs to provide a far more affordable pricing structure.
"Were trying to provide value around StarOffice and are not trying to gauge, especially dealing with our Linux vendors. It is very important to us to have these broad distribution channels and to get the product out to as many people as possible," she said.
MandrakeSoft SA, which distributes Mandrake Linux, recently announced the availability of StarOffice 6.0 for its customers.
StarOffice is not just facing a challenge from the Openoffice.org productivity suite, but also from SOT Finnish Software Engineering Ltd, which recently issued its latest product, SOT Office 2002, in direct response to Suns decision to charge for StarOffice.
"Suns recent decision to limit the free availability of StarOffice to Solaris only is what prompted us to create this release. Maintaining and supporting the SOT Office suite is the only way we can guarantee that a professional-quality office suite remains freely available for both Windows and Linux users," Santeri Kannisto, SOTs CEO, told eWEEK in an e-mail exchange.
SOT Office is based on a combination of Openoffice.org code and other open-source products that have been refined and enhanced. It is also fully compatible with documents created by Microsoft Office, Openoffice.org, StarOffice and other common formats, the company said.
"Essentially the biggest job we have made is related to providing commercial services for the product, packaging it to boxed set with printed manuals, and taking responsibility for maintaining the product as a free variant of StarOffice for Linux and Windows," he said.
The company is targeting both the corporate/enterprise market as well as the broad consumer market, especially those considering migrating to Linux from Windows by providing an office suite that works well on both platforms.
The product, licensed under the GPL, is available as a free download for those who do not need printed documentation, while a boxed English release with printed manual and CD will be available next week for $89 a copy.
The company also offers a 12-month maintenance agreement for $81 per copy per year and technical support at $36 an incident.