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Sun seeks many Davids for MS Office fight

Preps XML standards for desktop

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc is hatching a set of XML data standards for use in desktop productivity applications, in attempt to unseat Microsoft Corp's domination of office applications,

Gavin Clarke writes

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Palo Alto, California-based Sun said Friday it is working on a set of potential standards with a series of un-named partners, and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

No date has yet been set of submission of the standards to OASIS, as the company said it is first seeking a critical mass of support.

Sun software group's recently appointed chief technology officer John Fowler said the goal is to open up data held on desktops running Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's Office. He believes a set of standards-based XML specifications would enable greater interoperability of third-parties' products, such as Sun's StarOffice 6.0, with Office.

Microsoft's roadmap is to embedded XML in Office. But Fowler said Microsoft's support XML does not necessarily enable greater interoperability between Office and other suites because Microsoft retains the power to alter its own data formats.

"Compatibility with Microsoft Office formats is extraordinarily challenging, because they can change what the blobs are," he told a press and analysts' gathering in San Francisco, California, on Friday.

Fowler believes a set of industry-backed XML-based data specifications would enable challengers, especially in the Linux and open source community, to realistically take on Microsoft. Fowler envisioned a scenario in which "lots of Davids" take on the Goliath.

Past challenges have failed to materialize. Sun first took on Office with StarOffice 5.2, based on OpenOffice. Compatibility with Office formats, though, was poor. "Products prior to OpenOffice 1.0 [the foundation of StarOffice 6.0] have been deficient," Fowler said.

Once standards for data formats are established, Sun believes two factors will drive development of Office rivals. One is increased maturity of open source browsers such as Mozilla and the Linux operating system - Fowler cited Red Hat 7.3 and SuSE 8.0 as good examples, which he said have "reasonable" install and management.

The second factor is Microsoft's new licensing program, especially Software Assurance which Fowler called a "wake-up call". "Customers have realized they have a platform... where their mission critical activities are completely bound into... a system, where a company can execute what ever licensing they want," he said.

© ComputerWire.

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