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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc's StarOffice office applications suite is expected to wrest a 10% market share of the desktop productivity software sector away from Microsoft by 2004.

Technology analysts at Gartner Group predict that Sun has a "slightly better than 50:50 chance" to win a 10% slice of business away from Microsoft, as organizations start to count the cost of licensing changes being brought about with the introduction on August 1 of Microsoft's new Software Assurance renewable subscription scheme.

Palo Alto, California-based Sun has been giving StarOffice away free of charge ever since it acquired the software along with its German parent Star Division in August 1999. It has also made the code available to the open source community through openoffice.org. But as ComputerWire reported in February, plans are being readied by Sun to start charging Linux and Windows users of its StarOffice desktop office suite from version 6.0.

This is a move Gartner sees as increasing the viability of the package as an alternative to Microsoft Office. The thinking is that risk-averse businesses would feel more comfortable licensing low-cost software from a profitable business division of Sun than they would using free software that might not offer adequate support. Retail pricing is expected to be less than $100 a seat, with volume pricing pitched as much as 40% less than the single-user level.

Unlike the competition, the latest version of StarOffice will run on Linux and Solaris computers and every Windows PC based around a Pentium I architecture and above. For some sites, adopting Sun's desktop productivity program should help slow the PC upgrade cycle to a fraction of what is considered normal, the company contends. Sun sees the most likely early adopters of StarOffice as the millions of users still running Office 95 and Office 97 products, but the Linux edition might well push adopters toward the open source OpenOffice version.

While Sun can boast of five million downloaded and 20 million distributed copies of StarOffice, it is not known how many of those are actually being used. Some estimates suggest numbers are as low as 39,000.

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