Users Swarm to StarOffice 6 Beta

The brouhaha surrounding Microsoft's new volume licensing plans has apparently been good news for Sun's StarOffice 6 beta, which has been downloaded more than 200,000 times over the past week.

The brouhaha surrounding Microsoft Corp.s new volume licensing plans has apparently been good news for companies like Sun Microsystems Inc., which last week announced the beta release of its free StarOffice 6 office productivity suite.

Iyer Venkatesan, the product line manager for StarOffice, told eWEEK in an interview Tuesday that there had been more than 200,000 downloads of the software from Suns Web site over the past week. Some two-thirds of those downloading the software had indicated on the download page that they were Windows users, he said.

StarOffice is Suns open-source productivity application suite that includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications for Solaris, Windows and Linux platforms.

While reviewers say it is not yet ready to totally displace Microsoft Office in the enterprise, an increasing number of potential users are evaluating it. See eWEEK Labs review of the beta, StarOffice Offers IT Real Choice.

"We were totally blown away by the download numbers. There were 70,000 downloads on the first day alone; 140,000 over the first three days and more than 200,000 in the first week. To be quite honest, we have been taken aback by this enormous interest in the product," Venkatesan said.

Simon Phipps, Suns chief evangelist, said in an interview from Southhampton, England, that there had been three times as many downloads of StarOffice 6 in the first week than there had been of the beta version of StarOffice 5.2, its predecessor, in three months. "There were just 69,000 downloads of Version 5.2 over the first quarter it was available," he said.

The main reason for the interest in the beta software was because the office productivity desktop market had been dominated by Microsoft for so long now. Corel and Lotus have effectively lost market share and "users are now objecting to the draconian new licensing conditions imposed by Microsoft, which requires some users to pay as much as 80 percent more for their licenses.

"Microsoft has also incorporated an intrusive and burdensome registration scheme on legal, license-paying users and are still using closed-file formats that are subject to change. People see an alternative in StarOffice," he said.

Sun had never intended to compete with Microsoft in this market, Phipps said, adding that its goal was to provide a cross-platform tool for the heterogeneous environments that Sun tended to work in.

"We never intended it to go up against Microsoft and we still dont," Phipps said. "But a lot of people downloading the software are evaluating the product and are checking things like whether it really is Office XP file-format compatible and are looking at the Extensible Markup Language-based file format and seeing if it really is full of readable data that they can process offline."

A number of analysts were also recommending that corporate IT managers download and evaluate StarOffice 6 given the negativity around Microsofts new licensing plans. In addition, many of the downloads were by Linux users wanting the latest tools and Solaris users wanting the latest version of the productivity suite, he added.

Venkatesan said that while the final code for StarOffice 6 would be ready before the end of the year, the product would only start shipping early next year due to constraints imposed by Suns internal guidelines on product releases.

"We are targeting announcing availability of the product in the first quarter of next year, depending on the language. We will start with the English and German languages, followed by the Asian languages and then other European languages," he said.

There had also been a large number of StarOffice wins in markets like international governments as well as local and federal U.S. government agencies, but he declined to name them, citing privacy and security issues.

But in late June, Sun announced that the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency would implement up to 25,000 units of its StarOffice 5.2 software. Sun said DISA would replace Applix on more than 10,000 of its Unix workstations at 600 client organizations worldwide.

While there had been more than 5 million downloads of StarOffice 5.2 over the past year, Sun expected significantly more than this for Version 6 "if the early interest in the beta is anything to go by," Phipps said.

"Microsoft is facing an increasing threat from products like our iPlanet server, whose price we have cut by 37 percent and which will take out Microsofts Internet Information Server, while Office users are defecting to us despite the fact that we are not marketing to them. Microsoft has no one but itself to blame for the increasing customer dissatisfaction with them and their products," he concluded.