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Google and Sun tag team MS Office

StarOffice joins free Google Pack

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Google has given web users yet another reason not to use Microsoft Office.

On Saturday, the very unofficial Google Operating System blog noticed that the Mountain View outfit was offering a completely free version of Sun Microsystem's StarOffice 8, the office productivity suite that Sun sells for $70 a pop. When contacted, Google confirmed that its version "includes all the major functionality of the paid consumer version."

The suite is available as part of the Google Pack, a free collection of downloadable applications first launched in January of 2006. The Pack offers several apps owned by Google itself, including Google Talk, Google Toolbar, Google Earth, and the sleek photo-manager Picasa. But you'll also find third-party tools, such as the Adobe Reader, the RealPlayer, and Skype's voice-over-IP client.

StarOffice boasts a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation tool, a personal database, and more, and though it doesn't provide support for Microsoft's new XML-based Office 2007 formats, it does handle Redmond's older MS file types. Plus, it can save files as PDFs.

Yes, web users already have free access to OpenOffice.org, an open source suite that uses the same base StarOffice code, but this doesn't include several features available only with Sun's version, including clip art, additional fonts, and tools for making the switch from the ubiquitous Microsoft Office.

What's the arrangement between Google and Sun? We're not sure. Google spokesman Clarissa Horowitz did tell The Reg that the company does not accept payment for including an app in Google Pack, but that doesn't rule out Google tossing some money at Sun.

"We partnered with Sun to make a free, fully-featured version of StarOffice because we believe Star Office provides great value to the user," was all Horowitz would say. But The New York Times reports that Google is indeed paying Sun, citing "a person familiar with the arrangement between the two companies."

Will Sun continue to offer a for-pay version of StarOffice? Does Google's free version offer the same customer support as Sun's? Again, we don't know. Google won't tell us, and Sun won't return our phone calls. It should be noted, however, that Google's version works only with Windows. Sun also sells a Linux version.

In any event, the two companies surely see their partnership as another way of weaning users off Microsoft Office. Google already offers browser-based word processor and spreadsheet apps, collectively known as Docs & Spreadsheets, and it will soon add a browser-based presentation tool that competes with Microsoft PowerPoint.

Update

Sun has phone backed. The company will continue to sell StarOffice at the same price: $70. Unlike Google's free version, Sun's for-pay version includes customer support and free upgrades for life. ®

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