Sun Microsystems Inc.s StarOffice 7 productivity suite is a capable cross-platform alternative to Microsoft Corp.s Office that comes at a price too attractive for enterprises to ignore.
The follow-on to last years impressive StarOffice 6 starts at less than one-sixth the cost of Microsoft Office 2003, yet in eWEEK Labs tests, the StarOffice suites word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications performed well and exhibited strong support for Microsofts binary DOC, XLS and PPT file formats. This means it will likely coexist well with Office 2003.
StarOffice 7, which began shipping last month, isnt for organizations that have already built heavily upon Microsofts VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) framework for office automation. These sorts of customizations wont carry across to Suns suite.
In addition, its likely that power users of Office will find that StarOffice lacks—or implements differently—certain features to which theyve become accustomed. For us, it was the “paste options” smart tag that began in Word 2002.
Suns StarOffice 7 has the interface familiarity and file-format compatibility that enable it to coexist with Microsofts Office. Add to that great cross-platform support, both in file formats and in operating systems, and a cost that starts at $79 a copy, and StarOffice may manage to displace Microsoft Office at many companies. More information is at www.sun.com/staroffice.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
However, StarOffice should handle most corporate users office suite needs with ease, and we found its interface similar enough to Microsoft Office to minimize training issues for most users. We recommend that interested IT staffs evaluate StarOffice to figure out how well the suite handles their organizations needs.
StarOffice 7 is priced at $79 retail. Sun also sells 25-user packs for $1,500, and for larger-volume purchases, prices range from $50 per user for 150 users to $25 per user for 10,000 users. StarOffice licenses allow users to install as many as five copies of StarOffice software on the systems they operate. For educational customers, license fees dont apply; Sun charges only for shipping and media costs.
By comparison, Corel Corp.s WordPerfect Office 11 (see review), which we reviewed in May, costs $299. Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition retails for $499; the Academic Edition costs $149.
For a free alternative, companies can check out OpenOffice.org 1.1, the open-source project on which StarOffice is based. At the time of this writing, OpenOffice.org was at the Release Candidate 5 stage, which is available for download at www.openoffice.org.
Unlike OpenOffice.org users, StarOffice users can turn to Sun for Web-based and help desk support, CD updates, training, and professional migration and deployment services.
Whats more, StarOffice includes additional (albeit not free) components that OpenOffice.org does not, such as a spelling checker, a thesaurus and Software AGs Adabas D database application. OpenOffice ships with its own, separate spell checker and thesaurus. StarOffice also ships with fonts and filters (such as those for WordPerfect) that OpenOffice.org does not.
In addition, the K Desktop Environment and GNOME projects each has its own office suite. In previous tests, we preferred StarOffice/OpenOffice to those suites. However, KOffice is nearing its 1.3 release, and Version 1.0 of GNOME Office recently shipped; expect evaluations of those suites in a future eWEEK Labs review.
The Cross-Platform Edge
Aside from its lower price, one of StarOffices greatest advantages over Office is its cross-platform support. Where Office 2003 will run only on Windows 2000 and XP, StarOffice supports Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP, as well as Linux and Solaris.
StarOffice does not support Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X, but theres a version of OpenOffice.org that runs on Mac OS X with the X11 windowing system installed, and theres a Mac OS Office.org in the works.
We tested StarOffice 7 on machines running Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 9 and Windows XP, and the applications performed consistently on both platforms. Wed like to see StarOffice made available in RedHat Package Manager form for Linux systems, however, because this would ease software distribution and management for these systems.
On our Linux test system, we noticed that certain fonts appeared rougher-looking in StarOffice 7 than in the versions of OpenOffice.org that Red Hat and Ximian Inc. ship. Those versions of OpenOffice.org are patched to use the Fontconfig2 font library to substitute missing fonts with anti-aliased replacements.
In contrast, StarOffice replaces missing fonts with X Window System fonts that may not be anti-aliased, which accounts for the differences we noticed. However, Sun plans to use Fontconfig2 in its StarOffice 8 release, company officials said.
StarOffice 7 ships with support for exporting documents in PDF format, which is useful for distributing documents to a variety of users on different platforms. StarOffices Impress presentation application could also export its documents in Macromedia Inc.s Flash form
Conveniently, we could also save documents in Pocket Word and Pocket Excel formats, for use with devices running Microsofts Pocket PC handheld operating system, and in the AportisDoc format for use with Palm OS devices.
StarOffice comes with a filter for importing documents saved in Microsofts WordML format, which is an implementation of the DOC format in XML. In our tests, imports of simple WordML documents worked adequately, but we were unable to import more complex files that included embedded images.
We experienced faster load times opening StarOffice 7 compared with OpenOffice. org 1.0.2 and StarOffice 6; launching the application took about one-third the time with the newer version.
Previous versions of the StarOffice suite supported macro creation but not live keystroke recording for defining macros. This lapse has been addressed in StarOffice 7.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]
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