Sun Microsystems last week confirmed that it plans to open
source its StarOffice personal productivity applications suite
under a General Public Licence (GPL) agreement in an attempt to
take market share away from Microsoft's rival Office product.
But opening up the suite's source code could potentially hurt
Office resellers and will give the fledgling offering a lift by
enabling software developers other than Sun itself to boost its
functionality. It could also dent Microsoft's plans to make its
Office suite available through application service providers
The hardware supplier also intends to form OpenOffice.org, which
will be managed by Collab.Net, and serve as a co-ordination point
for further development of the source code, the definition of
XML-based file formats, and the definition of language-independent
office application programming interfaces.
Marco Boerries, Sun's vice president of webtop and application
software, said: "Sun's open sourcing of StarOffice is the single
largest open source software contribution in public licence history
and adds a key application suite to the open source portfolio. This
announcement will leverage StarOffice's role as the leading
productivity suite for multiple platforms."
Tim O'Reilly, chief executive at analyst company O'Reilly and
Associates, said the availability of StarOffice under the GPL
agreement will give Linux a boost on the desktop.
Jon Collins, a senior analyst at Bloor Research, said the move
made sense because in the future, StarOffice would be distributed
through ASPs that may want to adapt and modify the software. "The
future of StarOffice is integration with platforms other than the
PC, and delivery by ASPs," he said. "The main question is whether
enough open source developers will be attracted to working on the
He added that the suite had not really taken off as a
replacement to Office because Microsoft's installed base had not
perceived any clear benefits in migrating. StarOffice was aimed at
consumers, and there would be a configuration overhead and learning
curve if it was adopted by businesses, he claimed.
Sun acquired Star, the original developers of StarOffice, in August
last year for $74m (£50m) in stock. The suite has recently
been gaining in popularity and, according to figures from Sun,
about 15 million copies have been distributed to customers over the
last 10 months, three million of them downloaded from Sun's
website. The other 12 million copies were distributed by Linux and
Trevor Doull, technical manager at Sun reseller ABC, said the
move presented a good opportunity for Linux-based resellers.
"Microsoft has a monopoly in the PC market, but it does not have a
competitive product for Linux. Making StarOffice open source makes
it easier to use and to customise. Resellers will be more willing
to incorporate it into solutions, and being free, it lowers costs,"
Jim Carroll, regional sales manager for Sun at Computacenter,
said StarOffice proved there is a viable alternative to Microsoft's
Office. "Sun is an open systems company, while Microsoft is
proprietary. They are fundamentally different business models. Sun
knows Microsoft is the market leader, so by making StarOffice open
to everyone, it will increase its share. Look what happened to
Sparc and Java," he said.
But Tim Hall, business development director at reseller Bytes
Technology Group, poured cold water on the scheme. "Making
StarOffice open source will not make it attractive to larger
customers where the price of Microsoft Office is insignificant," he
"They will only spend time on a product where there is a large
market, and StarOffice doesn't have that," he added. "Sun is just
saying 'Here's one in the eye for Microsoft.' But it really wasn't
selling, so Sun has had to give it away."
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