Sun Microsystems Nov. 17 released StarOffice 9, sprucing up the open-source productivity suite with native support for Apple's Mac OS X operating system and the ability to import and read files created in the Microsoft Office 2007 XML file format.
StarOffice 9, a suite of word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and database software Sun offers as an alternative to Microsoft Office, also includes a number of extensions that should please the suite's user base of 50 million people.
These extensions don't come standard in the StarOffice 9 package because not everyone may use them, but they are free to download, said Iyer Venkatesan, Sun's senior product manager of StarOffice, who also admitted Sun is working on a SAAS version of StarOffice to compete with Google, Zoho and others.
A PDF import extension allows users to import, edit and save Adobe PDF documents. Another is a presentation console that recalls the presenter view in Microsoft PowerPoint. There are also extensions to enable wiki and blog publishing.
Another extension includes templates for sample files, and there is also a database report builder extension for the StarOffice Base program. Venkatesan said Sun has also partnered with eFax to enable electronic faxing from StarOffice.
Venkatesan also said Sun has also created an extension, called Lightning, to Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail client that will give StarOffice customers e-mail, calendaring and scheduling functionality as an alternative to using Outlook for these tools.
There are also 1,600 new features aimed at improving productivity and ease-of-use. For example, in addition to a new start center, new icons, StarOffice 9 boasts multiple page editing in Writer, an optimization Solver tool and 1024 columns in Calc, native table support in Impress, and effective handling of poster-size graphics in Draw.
StarOffice 9 and StarSuite 9 are available for download for $34.95, which is double the current fee of $16.95. However, this fee includes three support incidents. Retail pricing is $54.95, down from the StarOffice 9 retail price of $99.95.
Volume pricing for the enterprise is unchanged at $25 to $90 per user depending on volume. A new subscription model includes license and support per user, per year for one or three years. Customers can choose between standard or premium support.
StarOffice 9 is also completely open-sourced, featuring the same binaries as OpenOffice.org 3.0. Going completely open source is nice, but support for OS 10 and OOXML is important.
Instead of remaining walled off from those technologies, StarOffice can now entertain documents and files from both. StarOffice 9 is designed to help Sun continue to chip away at Microsoft's monolithic Office platform, which is used in some 95 percent of businesses around the world.
Yet with the rise of cloud computing productivity suites such as Google Apps and Zoho as alternatives to desktop-residing suites such as Office and StarOffice, it is clear the conversation about who and what competes with Microsoft Office is changing.
Venkatesan said Sun is working on an online version of StarOffice, which makes sense considering Google dropped StarOffice distribution in its Google Pack. Hint, hint.
Microsoft is not immune to the cloud's allure. The company today is broadly launching Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, hosted versions of the company's mighty on-premise productivity and collaboration suites.