Sun offers up free StarOffice office apps suite

Competitor to Microsoft Office now available for free download; Sun to open source code

August 31, 1999 -- Choosing not to issue any direct challenges to Microsoft, Sun Microsystems announced the upcoming release of StarPortal, a free Web-based software suite targeted as a competitor to Microsoft's Office and based on technology acquired when Sun bought Star Division.

The StarOffice software suite, which contains word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation applications, is immediately available for free download from Sun's Web site. The 65MB version for "fat" clients, will be followed early next year by StarPortal, the Web-based version that will be accessible from any device with a browser, Sun said.

"Today, we dot-com the office," said Ed Zander, chief operating officer at Sun, at a press conference in New York City on Tuesday, August 31. "We understand that there is a prevailing way of doing [office productivity] and that is with a fat client. But we are not interested in competing with Microsoft on a fat-client basis. This is a network play."

Sun is offering the current StarOffice desktop software for free download at StarOffice 5.1 runs on the Linux, Windows, Solaris, and OS/2 operating systems. Users will be able to import various software file formats, including those from PowerPoint, Excel, and Microsoft Word, officials said.

Users of Microsoft Office and other similar software will not need much, if any, training to use StarOffice, according to Sun, and will have immediate access to Office files, which they will be able to modify and export.

In support of that claim, Zander displayed a quote from the testimony of Microsoft senior vice president Paul Maritz from the software giant's antitrust trial against the Department of Justice that read, "it is relatively easy for customers used to [Microsoft] Office to switch to StarOffice."

Upon showing the quote, Zander quipped, "and it was under oath, so you know it must be true."

Zander then introduced Star Division wunderkind, Marco Boerries, the new vice president and general manager of Webtops and desktops at Sun. Having started the company at the tender age of 16 in Germany, Boerries assumed the stage as if he had won the lottery, high-fiving Zander.

During the demonstration of the software, there was a noticeable difference in the run times between a locally run version of StarOffice, and the demo of StarPortal running over the Internet. In response to the delays, Boerries said only, "Probably there is some congestion."

Sun then paraded various partners on stage, one of which had made an appearance endorsing Sun competitor Compaq's eight-way servers only two weeks prior in the same hotel. A lot can change in two weeks, apparently, when Bobby Patrick, vice president of strategy and development at Digex claimed that, "Digex has chosen all Sun for our servers." Compaq could not be reached for comment.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy took the stage at the end of the presentation and again deflected the attention away from a head-to-head battle with Microsoft over control of the desktop.

"People are talking about this being a battle of one company against another, but I look at it as a battle between a service provider and desktops apps that make me my own personal systems administrator," said McNealy. "And you can't beat the price, unless we start mailing checks to you to use it."

McNealy explained that the source code would also be made available, and encouraged developers to port the platform to Apple. He suggested that PC makers bundle the software on their systems, and even went so far as to suggest the government use it and lower taxes as a result of all the money they would save. As for when Microsoft plans to offer its software for free and on an Internet basis, one Sun executive said they have a long way to go.

"They have some baggage and will have to figure out how to get there," said Brian Croll, senior director of product marketing for Sun software products and platforms. "We don't know how long it will be, but we know that have to do a lot to get there."

Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment. StarOffice CDs are priced at .95; the software also can be ordered with printed documentation and support, priced at 9.95. Additional support services will be announced later, Sun said.

Sun is in talks with Internet service, Internet outsourcing, and network hosting providers and with vendors of enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and sales-force automation software to promote acceptance of its network services model through use of StarPortal.

Sun is promoting a network services business model in which companies turn over to service providers such tasks as managing networks, servers, and applications.

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This story, "Sun offers up free StarOffice office apps suite" was originally published by InfoWorld.