Sun Microsystems Inc. will release the first beta of StarOffice 6.1 next week, further heating up the competitive war in the office desktop productivity market.
News of the upcoming StarOffice 6.1 beta, which is focused on the corporate and enterprise customer, follows that from Corel Corp., which on Wednesday unveiled the first beta of WordPerfect Office 11, expected to be available in North America late next month.
For its part, Microsoft Corp. next week is expected to release the second beta for Office 2003, formerly code-named Office 11, which is due for final release by mid-year.
Suns product line manager for StarOffice, Iyer Venkatesan, told eWEEK in an interview Thursday that the first StarOffice 6.1 beta will be available as a free download for the general public, but will be limited to 50,000 participants. “We are screening participants in the first beta to make sure all the platforms and languages are fully represented.
“We have already had more than 10,000 pre-registrations for the beta and are also working with our current enterprise customers to participate in the program,” he said.
The first beta program will run for about two months, followed by a second beta in early May that will be restricted to a handful of enterprise customers and a few public consumers. That program will also run for about two months, with the final release of the product slated for early fall.
“The 6.1 release is really an enterprise-focused release, and a lot of the feature-set is geared toward the larger corporate market as opposed to the consumer market. We have added accessibility to the product, which allows people with physical disabilities to use it.
“This will now help us promote the product with the U.S. government and its agencies, as it now meets the government requirement that all the products it standardizes and uses are accessible,” Venkatesan said.
: Sun Set to Release StarOffice Beta”>
Sun is also working on a new set of configuration tools, the StarOffice Configuration Manager, to help system administrators and network administrators install, deploy and manage StarOffice across the enterprise.
Sun will also release a software developer kit (SDK) for StarOffice 6.1, and will include a lot of new technologies to allow localization in regions with complex languages—those, such as Hebrew, Hindi and Arabic, that require bidirectional text and complex text layouts.
“Well be able to offer StarOffice in those languages as we roll out the product. Our goal is to increase the languages we support to around 15 from the 10 core ones we support in StarOffice 6.0,” he said.
OpenOffice.org will come out with its own separate beta for the free OpenOffice 1.1 product, but the two betas will track one another very closely.
While there will be no real changes to the core XML technology in StarOffice 6.1, Sun is working to ensure the compatibility of StarOffice with the XML file formats in Microsofts upcoming Office 2003 suite.
“We need to see how Microsoft is implementing their version of XML. We recently received an official copy of the code for Office 2003 and are looking at that now to see what we can put into the 6.1 timeframe to ensure XML compatibility and functionality with Office 2003,” he said.
The key is what the XML default format is for Office 2003 documents. “Is it .doc or XML? In StarOffice 6.0, we made a complete switch to XML, and we want to see what theyre doing with their file formats because the last time they changed their file formats was from Office 95 to Office 97—and that brought up a host of issues.
“We need to be compatible with the Office 2003 files, and we are at a point where we can still include this in 6.1, but the window for that is obviously closing,” Venkatesan said, adding that a move to XML by Microsoft benefited users, customers and Sun, as it helped its interoperability and compatibility stories.
Both Suns StarOffice and Corels WordPerfect Office have recently been winning some shares from Microsofts low-end Works package. In December, Sun snared a deal with Sony Information Technology Europe to bundle StarOffice on Sony desktop computer systems in seven European countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The move replaced Microsoft Corp.s Works package on most of those lines and followed moves by both Hewlett-Packard Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. to offer Canadian software developer Corels word processing package, WordPerfect 10, and spreadsheet application, Quattro Pro 10, with some of their computer lines.
But the news has not all been good for Sun. Last September German-based SuSE Linux dropped the StarOffice 6.0 desktop productivity suite in favor of the free OpenOffice alternative in SuSE Linux 8.1, the latest version of its Linux operating system for personal and business computers.
SuSEs move followed the decision by leading Linux distributor Red Hat Inc. to not use StarOffice in any of its future distributions, not just because Sun had decided to charge for the product but also as it included non open-source technologies.
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