Office Wars: StarOffice in Attack Mode

Sun plans to go on the offensive against Microsoft Office in the battle for enterprise office productivity users when its StarOffice 6.0 software suite ships next week.

The battle for enterprise office productivity users is set to heat up as Sun Microsystems Inc prepares to release its branded StarOffice 6.0 software suite on May 21.

Sun is taking direct aim at Microsoft Offices corporate and enterprise installed base with its new offering, Mike Rogers, vice president and general manager of desktop and office productivity at Sun in Santa Clara, Calif., told eWEEK on Tuesday.

"With the release of StarOffice 6.0, we are putting enormous pressure on Microsoft Office and are now offering business and enterprise users an alternative to Microsofts unreasonable and inflexible pricing and licensing conditions, which have many users angry and frustrated. We are targeting these users head-on," he said.

StarOffice 6.0, which runs on the Windows, Linux and Solaris platforms and has been available as a free download until now, will be available for $75.95 through retail channels next week, Rogers confirmed.

Enterprise customers who make a commitment of 1,000 or more users will pay between $25 and $50 under the new tiered, per-user basis, while education customers will only pay the cost of the CD-ROM and shipping, he said.

In contrast, the standard non-upgrade version of Microsoft Office costs $479, while the upgrade version retails at $239. Office for students and teachers comes in at $149, while its volume licensing programs offer additional discounts.

Suns Rogers said the company is also taking its existing enterprise software support offerings and making these available to StarOffice, though he declined to give specific pricing details.

Among the enterprise customers who will use StarOffice 6.0 is French grocer/retailer Auchan Groupe, which plans to move some 30,000 employees to the suite.

Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., which has a heterogeneous environment, said cross-platform support for Linux, Solaris and Windows and StarOffices ability to handle file formats from other suites were key in its decision to select the product.

Rogers said consumers and enterprises can expect to save at least 75 percent in licensing costs if they move to StarOffice from Microsoft Office, adding that some 1.8 million users at Fortune 500 companies across a range of industries are evaluating StarOffice 6.0. More than half of those companies have the potential to buy 100,000 or more seats, he said.

The trials represent aggregate savings of over $200 million in licensing costs alone, compared with the current proprietary licensing costs from other vendors, Rogers said, citing the more than 8 million downloads of previous free versions of StarOffice and the 4.5 million downloads of as further evidence of the "overwhelming demand for a high-value, low-cost, multiplatform office productivity suite."

Michael Silver, an analyst at research group Gartner, Inc. agreed, saying that unless Microsoft makes significant concessions in its new office licensing policies, StarOffice will gain at least 10 percent market share at the expense of Microsoft Office by the end of 2004.

Value vs. price

As Sun targets Microsoft Office users, it faces an uphill battle. Microsoft has a desktop productivity market share of more than 90 percent and this week announced it has issued some 60 million Office XP licenses since the product was released a year ago.

Nicole von Kaenel, product manager for Microsoft Office XP, hit back at Sun on Tuesday, telling eWEEK that many of its customers feel value is more important than price. "Society is full of cheap alternatives. The cost of a license is just a fraction of the overall cost of ownership for software. The acquisition cost of StarOffice is dwarfed by the ongoing costs of migration, support and potential losses in user productivity stemming from training and a new learning curve," she said.

Microsoft is also hearing reports from customers, analysts and third parties indicating that StarOffice 6.0 document compatibility is unsatisfactory. Documents that contain heavy formatting, macros, templates and pivot tables will present problems to customers, "and that flies in the face of office productivity," she said.

Von Kaenel cited several recent analyst reports to back this up, including a report released last month from Gartners Silver that said the lack of compatibility with macros "is perhaps the biggest obstacle for enterprises to overcome, because even low-end consumers of information may have to execute documents with macros."

"Therefore, most enterprises will not be able to move all users to StarOffice, and they will be forced to support a combination of Microsoft Office for higher-end users and StarOffice for lower-end users," he said.

Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group, also recently wrote in a report that while StarOffice provides good file compatibility, it does not enable macro, pivot table or anything developed in Visual Basic. "So clients with substantial use of any of these likely would find a migration rather costly due to manual conversions and retraining," she said.

But Rogers disputed this, saying StarOffice 6.0 takes Office compatibility to a new level. Among the most significant new features in the product is the open XML-based default file format, and users would have far more robust Microsoft Office import and export filters, including support for Office XP, redesigned dialog boxes, additional templates, graphics and clip art, he said.

"It works transparently with a variety of file formats, enabling users familiar with other office suites, such as Microsoft Office, to open, save and exchange files. Theres also a familiar, integrated and configurable interface, while the integrated desktop has also been removed to support native desktop environments such as GNOME, CDE and Windows," he said.

While declining to state what Suns sales and revenue expectations for StarOffice are, Rogers said the company expects a "tremendous amount of interest now that we are opening the floodgates to all corporate and enterprise users. We are definitely going after Microsoft Offices core enterprise customer base," he said.

While StarOffice 6.0 will initially be available only through PC makers like Hyundai and NEC, Sun is in discussions with Dell Computer Corp., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. Linux vendors MandrakeSoft, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux and Ximian are also all planning to bundle StarOffice 6.0 in their product offerings going forward, and this would be under direct licensing agreements, Rogers said.

But not everyone in the open source and Linux community are pleased with Suns decision to start charging users for StarOffice 6.0. Linux sales and service company Red Hat Inc. has decided not to use StarOffice 6.0 in any of its distributions going forward.

Linux vendors like Red Hat are now looking at possibly including the recently released office productivity suite, which is free and which shares the same code base as StarOffice 6.0.

StarOffice is also facing a potential challenge 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.

SOT Office is based on a combination of code and other open-source products. The product, licensed under the GPL, is available as a free download.

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