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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc is building a StarOffice developers kit, to further boost its desktop productivity suite's chances against Microsoft Corp's Office,

writes Gavin Clarke

.

Santa Clara, California-based Sun told ComputerWire it is working on developer tools which simplify construction of both enhancements to StarOffice and entirely new applications for the suite.

Sun said it is also looking at tools which can convert Office macros written in Visual Basic (VB) into StarOffice macros that use Java APIs. Macros offer functionality for specific actions or are tailored to customers in vertical sectors, and tools that automate conversion could simplify migration from Office to StarOffice.

Sun's goal is to increase StarOffice's appeal to corporate customers who are disillusioned with licensing of Office and other business software products from Microsoft.

Microsoft introduced changes to its licensing this summer, considered to be more costly than the previous licensing regime by many who are now evaluating rival's offerings.

Sun hopes to increase the appeal of StarOffice by increasing the number of applications and macros available, developing an ecosystem of third parties and ISVs around the suite. Equally important are migration tools, which can potentially cut costs and reduce development effort associated with changing code for customers who take the decision to shift.

While Sun has offered StarOffice developers support in the past, this has been mostly in been in the form of documentation and plug-ins to the company's Sun ONE Studio Java integrated development environment.

Such an approach, though, is out-moded under Sun's re-invigorated software program, lead by Sun executive vice president Johathan Schwartz.

Vice president of engineering for desktop solutions Curtis Sasaki told ComputerWire Sun has "a couple of years" to seize the initiative and build a community of users and developers around StarOffice. "The window is open now... a lot of governments and enterprises are looking for something else, that lets them take back control of their destiny," he said.

Sun last week took steps to help persuade customers to adopt StarOffice, by addressing potential fears that formatting of data held in existing Office documents would be lost when exporting data to Office. Sun submitted a set of XML-based file formats used in StarOffice 6.0 to the Organization of the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) for ratification as standards.

Sun is backed by desktop software vendor Ottawa, Ontario-based Corel Corp among others but Microsoft - invited to joint the effort - is thought unlikely to participate.

Sun will use the tool kit to play on customers' ongoing concerns over the security of Office and associated products like Internet Explorer and Outlook. VB macros converted to StarOffice will be more secure, Sasaki claimed, because of Java's sand box approach, which he said would help cut-down on spread of viruses.

He added, though, "the hard part" faced by Sun is trying to convert macros from VB into Java APIs. As such, no date is set for the developer kit's launch, but a next version of StarOffice is due in October 2003.

The next StarOffice will also be promoted as a "slim" alternative to Microsoft's up-coming Office 11, which will be packed with a host of new features. Organizations will be able to turn-off a greater number of StarOffice features, tailoring the suite to needs of specific groups of users within an organizaiton, such as call center staff.

Sasaki added the modular concept of StarOffice, launched with version 6.0, has largely failed to catch-on. Those installing StarOffice 6.0 can pick the graphics engine, spreadsheet, presentation and word processing modules, instead of the full suite. However, Sasaki said most customers had chosen to install the whole suite.

© ComputerWire

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