Star challenges MS Office with Linux, Windows freeware

German outfit Star Division wants to have 10 million personal users in a year

German software outfit Star Division is aiming to hit Microsoft where it hurts, by giving away its StarOffice 5.0 productivity suite for free. The highly-regarded software is available on Linux, naturally, but the company also offers it in Windows 9x/NT, Solaris, OS/2 and Java flavours. Star Division claims to have sold 3 million copies of StarOffice world-wide since 1995, and is aiming for a minimum of 10 million personal users by the end of next year. It announced the free offer (Available here and here) quietly in Germany a couple of weeks back, but only went public internationally within the last few days. The company is claiming to have had 200,000 downloads since the German offer opened. One of the big problems Star Division's move will present for Microsoft is that the German company's product is highly mature, and competent. It's been in development for several years, and historians will note that the OS/2 version was some years back one of the great missed opportunities of IBM's OS/2 'hearts and minds' programme. IBM very nearly bundled it with OS/2, but lost the plot by buying in productivity software instead - IBM, the company that supports our ISVs, right? The other big problem for Microsoft is that StarOffice is cross-platform, so if it takes off big-time, as Star Division intends, it'll support platform leakage from Windows to alternatives. It includes WP, graphics, presentation, database front end, HTML editor, mail/news reader, scheduler, charting and formula editor, and claims interoperability with Office products up to Office 2000. Star Division has moved its HQ to the US, and intends to IPO next year - so how does it make money? The free version is the StarOffice 5.0 Personal Edition, but the giveaway model is being followed with a Deluxe version on CD with manual and support plus extras for $39.95. The "Personal Edition" tag is significant for both of these, as they're intended for personal users. For commercial users there's a Professional Edition at $169, and an extendable five user licence for $499. Star Division is also making it clear where it thinks it's heading by splitting commercial licence models into two categories: Business Licence and Enterprise Licence. The latter adds support and consulting services, and is clearly pitched at the corporate customers that Microsoft has run just about everybody out of. ®

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