When Sun Microsystems bought the little-known StarOffice productivity suite in 1999, and soon thereafter released the product's code base as open-source software, it was unclear how far the arguably quixotic initiative might reach-and what damage it could possibly wreak on Microsoft's ironclad grip on the office productivity market.
Now, nine years later, Sun is on the verge of a major 3.0 release of the project that grew up around that code base, OpenOffice.org. While OpenOffice.org hasn't achieved the same measure of mainstream adoption as its ideological cousin, the Firefox Web browser, the freely available office suite has helped advance the state of file format standardization, to the extent that Microsoft first developed its own open file format and is now prepared to include support for the ISO-standard OpenDocument format in Office 2007.
I tested OpenOffice.org 3.0 in a near-final RC3 version, and was pleased with the progress that the project has made toward improving format compatibility and feature parity with Microsoft Office. I also tested a beta release of StarOffice 9, which is the commercial version of OpenOffice.org for which Sun offers support and intellectual property indemnification.
As with previous versions of the suites, the extent to which OpenOf??Ãfice.org or StarOffice can serve effec??Ãtively as a replacement to Microsoft Office will depend on the features and documents you use in your orga??Ãnization. Since OpenOffice.org is free to download and take for a spin, it's certainly worth giving the suite a run in your environment to judge for yourself.