Confusion marks StarOffice anniversary
Anything but Microsoft
As the tenth anniversary of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice acquisition approaches it grows increasingly difficult to fathom what Sun intends for its suite.
Sun this week released a minor upgrade based on the latest iteration of OpenOffice - version 2.3 and unveiled a bunch of plug-in extensions that appear useful enough. One enables StarOffice to be used to prepare blogs, one turns your PC into a fax machine and another compresses ludicrously large presentation files (including Microsoft's Powerpoint format).
The company also introduced a back-office server for bulk conversion documents into PDF format with a price tag of $11,000 for a base licence.
But at the same time Sun announced a "back-line" support deal for OpenOffice, the free, open source equivalent to StarOffice. For a paltry sum of $20 per user each year Sun will provide 24x7 telephone and email support. Sun said the target market for this package is not consumers but distributors and OEMs, and it will offer a discount according to volume.
It should be noted, StarOffice users - who pay around $70 for the package - receive their support not from Sun but from a third party.
While Sun clearly has a future planned for StarOffice it is hard to know why, given that it admits that it is quite happy for everyone to download OpenOffice for free.
StarOffice was acquired in 1998 and keenly touted as a rival to Microsoft Office. Since then, Sun has tried a number of strategies to make it competitive. The most successful was to release the source code and spawn the OpenOffice, open source project. While it still has some way to go to get close to Microsoft's dominance, OpenOffice attracts as many as a million downloads a week.
There are some minor differences between OpenOffice and StarOffice - such as some extra fonts and a clip art library - but they are fast disappearing. The StarOffice code is based on OpenOffice and the new extensions - that are either free or very cheap - work equally well with OpenOffice.
Sun derives no profit from its StarOffice revenues, which it donates to charity, while this summer it signed a deal with Google to include StarOffice free in its Google pack offering. Also pushing OpenOffice is Ulteo, with an OpenOffice, software-as-a-service option.
All of which begs the questions: what is the point of StarOffice, where will it be in another 10 years, and who's going to pay Sun to support it?®
purchased in 1998?
Sorry, I came late, but Sun bought StarDivision in August 1999. In geologic time perhaps, we're approaching a 10 year anniversary, but not in the real world. And as the guy who ran the acquisition, let me say that SUNW did not buy 42000 PC's to run Office. At the time, you had to have serious juice to get a whiff of a PC. No, as someone else said, the main reason was to help workstation sales. And if you look at what Sun got out of its other acquisitions at the time, the StarDivision buy was one of the better ones.
What does it really lack?
"It looks and feels old-fashioned and is years behind Office 2007 that I use at work."
What can Office 2007 do that OpenOffice cannot for supporting document creation? I'm genuinely curious, since I find that OpenOffice already has more features than I find I need, even for complex software documents.
(Ignore MS Office file format compatibilty issues for this question, since that is not any problem, when all users in an organization use OpenOffice for a particular project).
"Looking old-fashioned" is also a non-issue for professional work. My PC keyboard also looks much the same as the one I used 20 years ago. Jazzing it up would not help my productivity.
Applixware was the office suite deployed internally at Sun when Star Division was acquired. Laptop users (sales reps, execs) will also have had Windows, but it is simply incorrect to say that 42,000 Sun employees were issed with Windows laptops simply in order to use MS Office.