StarOffice: ready for the big time?
StarOffice is already very popular and has become something of a standard on Linux PCs often in the guise of OpenOffice, its open source brother. Sun acquired Star Division GmbH five years ago, with the clear intention of competing directly with Microsoft. It has taken time for Sun to establish a competitive position, though. StarOffice never got strong reviews until version 6, which debuted in early 2002. It is just now in version 7, which is attracting even more attention because of the quality of the release.
Version 6 did two things that made a difference. First it removed the StarOffice Desktop which was always an over-ambitious feature, so it now functioned as a collection of applications - word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing - almost like Microsoft Office, except that with StarOffice you get a little more and it's far better integrated. Secondly it began to use XML as default for file storage. However, version 6 was a little buggy and sometimes the Microsoft file conversions didn’t work so well.
StarOffice 7 is mature by any reasonable standard. It has the ability to export to PDF (now becoming a necessity for some people, including me) and it can also export to Macromedia Flash. It has a configuration manager for setting up shared work environments and a document recovery capability for damaged files. It also has a whole set of added features, most of which won't matter much to most users simply because office software has been over-featured for years. StarOffice also comes with a copy of the Adabas D relational database, enabled for three users and 100MB of data. I’m not sure why. I never use it.
Is it an adequate replacement for Microsoft Office? For most purposes the answer is undoubtedly "yes". So how painful will the transition be? This depends how heavily you use Office. If your usage is limited to Word processing then Star Office translates files with very few problems. Functionally it is arguably better in some areas, such as dictionary and thesaurus. Its styles capability is easier to work with and it has a navigator window which is useful for long documents.
I doubt if you'll find transition to StarOffice so easy if you are an advanced spreadsheet user. Complex Excel spreadsheets can be read by Star Office but they may not translate well. If you don’t use Excel in a sophisticated way, you won’t care at all. The same goes for Powerpoint.
For large organizations looking to reduce the costs of the desktop significantly, Star Office looks compelling. Siemens did a trial project to test the Ximian/OpenOffice/Linux combination with office staff in Germany last year. (Open Office has some minor differences to StarOffice, such as fewer fonts and graphics) Siemens concluded that changing to Linux and StarOffice was no more expensive than a Windows upgrade - in terms of training. On top of that, it saved 20 to 30 per cent in administration costs, 50 per cent in hardware costs and 80 per cent in licensing costs. Pretty compelling when you think about it.
Also you don't have to go to Linux to adopt the product - it works quite happily under Windows. However, I suspect that its future and that of the Linux desktop are inextricably bound together.