StarOffice 8 is based on OpenOffice.org 2.0, a popular open-source office suite, which is now in pre-release.
Copies of this version of OpenOffice.org are already being distributed as updates in some Linux distributions such as Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux 9.3.
Sun Microsystems Inc. is positioning StarOffice 8 as an affordable alternative to Microsoft Office.
This new StarOffice is the first update of the office suite since late 2003.
StarOffice 8 is designed to offer enhanced compatibility and interoperability with Microsoft Office.
It is also built to look familiar to Office users as well as existing StarOffice users.
Major enhancements have been made to presentation and database user interfaces, toolbars, menus, headers and footers, and the overall look and feel.
The goal, according to Sun public relations, has been to make it so that Microsoft Office users can begin using StarOffice, with minimal training.
"With over 50 million downloads to date, StarOffice and OpenOffice.org have established themselves as the leading alternative to Microsoft Office for value-conscious customers," said John Loiacono, Suns executive vice president of the software group.
"The enhanced interoperability of StarOffice 8 makes it a comprehensive, cross-platform office productivity suite that meets the needs of both home and office users for a fraction of the cost of competitive products."
To further this end, StarOffice 8 provides better import and export of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
It also comes with a new macro migration tool that Sun claims will convert most MS Office macros.
In addition to all this Microsoft Office compatibility, StarOffice 8 is the first commercial office suite to use the OASIS OpenDocument file format.
Sun wont be the last. IBM is adding it to IBM Workplace and Corel is expected to be incorporating OpenDocument into its WordPerfect Suite in the near future.
The free software OpenOffice.org 2.0, of course, already has it.
The state of Massachusetts has also made OpenDocument, along with Adobe Acrobat PDF, one of its two official office formats.
Other governments, including the European Union, are also considering such moves.
Its not just governments that may be considering StarOffice.
"Organizations are seeking out ways to both reduce their costs of using information technologies and also make their IT investments provide real, measurable benefits in a very short term," said Dan Kusnetzky, IDCs VP of system software research.
"Software, such as Suns StarOffice 8, could neatly fit into both of these requirements. It could be used to reduce the software costs for each of their many desktop or mobile computers while also keeping the staff related costs in check," Kusnetzky said.
StarOffice 8 differs from OpenOffice.org 2.0 by including features for the enterprise.
Specifically, StarOffice includes bundled management tools to simplify installation and configuration across a companys desktops.
It also includes a Microsoft Office file analyzer. This will enable administrators to estimate the size of a migration from MS Office to StarOffice.
The new StarOffice also has a Macro Migration Wizard, which can convert VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) macros.
Encore will distribute StarOffice 8 to retail outlets in U.S. and Canada while Avanquest will offer StarOffice 8 in Europe.
Besides distributing StarOffice, Encore and Avanquest will also provide marketing and manufacturing of StarOffice for the retail channel.
Like earlier versions, StarOffice 8 will run on Solaris, Linux and Windows.
StarOffice will be available in seven languages. The suggested list price for the packaged software product will be $99.95, and a download price is $69.95.
For enterprise customers, StarOffice 8 software is priced on a tiered, per-user basis, starting at $35 for new users and $25 for upgrades.
Education organizations can continue to obtain StarOffice 8 at no charge.
StarOffice 8 downloads will be available Tuesday. Shrink-wrapped configurations will be available in October.