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The Sun, the Stars and the universe....

Sep 02, 1999, 17:53 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by theHippo)

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Contributed by Linux Today reader theHippo.

Note: please place tongue in cheek when reading certain sections of this article.

The takeover of Star Division by Sun has been making headlines around the world in the last few days. The news is significant enough. Sun's taking on Microsoft at it's own game. Yes, we've all heard this before but the situation is not the same. Some journalists have noted that it's not the OS that makes Microsoft but the applications that run atop the OS. Many people I personally know want to run Windows only because they're familiar with MS Office and think that there's no alternative ("What MS Word isn't the only word processor around?").

I have to say that I have no right writing about office suites because I come from the breed of people who prefer a text editor to a word processor for writing, and perl and gnuplot for data manipulation and graphing. I also have been using a lot of LyX recently for word processing, which I think is a great package. I admit to having run MS Office a long while ago. In the past I've even tried StarOffice but my home machine wasn't powerful enough and it was a drag running it. So my interest on the topic is the significance of Sun's takeover not the usability of office suites.

The expanding universe and other supposedly new theories....

Sun has given StarOffice new directions. Yes you could download a personal edition of StarOffice for free previously but Star Division was largely unknown in Silicon Valley, which obviously meant that the big guns wouldn't bet their life on Star. Now that Sun's put its name to the package there are more mentions of StarOffice in the American press than at any time.

To my understanding Sun is making the package available for free for personal and non-personal use, which means that businesses can reduce their TCO just by moving to StarOffice. Yes, some retraining would be required but in the long term this could prove to be a saving. At the moment, if you register then Sun is providing free online service support.

So why is Sun doing it? Sun's theory, according to their FAQ, is that it will vastly increase their server sales, especially with the upcoming Java version of StarOffice. StarOffice offers Sun a shield to the Wintel onslaught.

So what does Sun have to do next? How can it propagate StarOffice? I would suggest that Sun first capture the grassroots, i.e. the educational, governmental and non-profit industry. Convincing these institutions about the savings they can make is much easier to do then to convince commercial companies who could see this as a risky move.

Now when little Tommy comes home for his holidays from the University of Northern America what does he do, but to bring home a copy of StarOffice so that he can do some word processing. When CEO "Deep pockets" Dad peers over the shoulder of little Tommy he gets curious. Little Tommy would then obviously take the opportunity to promote StarOffice. Well, if only it was so easy. But you get the point. Most people already know that college students moving on to industry will take what they learn with them. And here's the opportunity for Sun with StarOffice.

Aliens aboard...

Don't you hate receiving document.doc or spreadsheet.xls via e-mail? Don't you hate explaining to people why most items can be and should be sent in plain text or tab-delimetered formats. Now here's your chance for revenge. Yes, use StarOffice proprietary formats! And if "MS Office" Joey from down the corridor pops by for information on how to view the files you sent, just slip him the StarOffice CD-ROM! (I can hear the jeers from XML proponents!). In the event that you have to spend time explaining the fact why the package is free, take advantage of the situation by inserting some pearls about Linux....

Waiting for the Empire to strike back

Evaluating Microsoft's possible response is a difficult one. For one they have the will and budget to change the game plan as we have seen in the past. Internet Explorer is an excellent example. Sun's next move to open source StarOffice is the crux of problem, since StarOffice will gain even wider popularity. So what's next then.

Perhaps we'll see the Windows desktop calculator growing larger with tables and graphing capabilities included ("Jeez judge, we've been distributing calculators with Windows for ten years now"). Or we could suddenly see macro capabilities added to Wordpad. The boundaries between what constitutes an OS and an application is so blurred in the Windows world, but do expect it to get even worse. Windows 2002 with all the "gadgets" will probably set you back a couple of hundred bucks.

Or...Microsoft could start open sourcing components and start supporting multiple platforms. There would certainly be some confusion, especially for the open source purist ("Is it better to have Satan working with you or working against you?").

Or...Microsoft could support another open source OS and provoke a jihad within the open source community in the hope of decimating it. After all it was the open source community who put these "dirty" ideas into Sun's mind. Your take Microsoft, make it a one to remember....

theHippo, though not a native, currently resides in the green pastures of northern England. While not relaxing in the mud pool, it uses boxes loaded with various OS-es including Solaris and Linux for its research work and attempts to use the dreaded Win9x/NT at other times. In the past it has used AIX, OS/2, *BSD and Sinclair BASIC, the latter being it's favourite.