Sun Details StarOffice 6

This week at LinuxWorld, Sun Microsytems is demonstrating the latest incarnation of its popular StarOffice Suite several weeks after placing a teaser on its Web site to gauge public interest. While details have not yet publicly emerged, BetaNews was able to catch up with Sun to get the scoop on version 6.0.

After a long wait, localized versions featuring support for Asian languages have finally materialized – something Sun hopes will lead to world wide acceptance. Overall, the focus of this release will be centered on ease of use rather than adding an over abundance of new features. Performance, compatibility, and the introduction of XML as the suite's default file format are among several areas that have received attention by developers.

Set for a public beta in earlier October and release some time in the first quarter of 2002, StarOffice has undergone numerous changes since version 5.2. Sun has made good on it promise to target key areas cited by user feedback, and has opted to remove the much maligned integrated desktop.

Additionally, performance has been enhanced through componentization. The entire suite will not load when users simply wish to perform a routine task - leading to quicker load times and a lower utilization of system resources. According to Sun, an assortment of bugs and code optimizations were taken on by the open source community -- contributing to the overall quality of the product.

In an effort to make StarOffice more intuitive and easy to use, usability is bolstered by extras such as: templates, clipart, buttons and icons modeled to be consistent with industry norms, pivot tables, and revamped dialog boxes. Due to the feedback provided by focus groups, help has also been re-worked.

A Sun representative remarked that the suite would be similar in appearance to Office 2000. Some of the templates include business plans, and others are designed with educators in mind. With convenience in mind, charting tools have also been integrated into all StarOffice components.

As always, popular formats such as binary and files saved with Microsoft Office are supported. However, Sun is banking on XML to provide universal compatibility to its product all while side stepping proprietary formats. With XML, the recipient of a file will not be required to have StarOffice installed in order to view it.

Not only will XML provide for smaller file sizes, it also opens the door to interactivity. Once technology progresses, users will be able to edit files through a Web browser. Continuing its push toward the Web applications, Sun is banking on Sun One Webtop to bring its productivity suite to the masses. As far as Sun is concerned, the adoption XML, combined with its open source business model is laying the groundwork for the future.

Rather than solely target Enterprise customers for a complete conversion from MS Office, Sun is turning toward educators, small businesses, governments, end users, and enterprises with mixed platforms to provide its niche. Sun concedes that many corporations have included Microsoft Office into their infrastructure, investing significant sums of money into developing custom middleware.

Given that fact, the company is eying tight school budgets, and is touting StarOffice as a solution that can support all commonly accepted file formats while eliminating the steep price tag. The same pitch is being offered to small business owners, particularly startups who are seeking viable desktop software.

Sun claims that openings are also present in government and corporation environments were mixed platforms are commonly used – offering up StarOffice as an economic method to achieve interoperability. It also sees itself as a secondary vendor to replace aging government information systems. However, Sun is simply not settling to coexist with the competition.

A company representative illustrated the example of an engineering manager using a Windows machine for presentations and documents while performing actual design work on another. Sun's solution is to eliminate the need for an additional machine with StarOffice.

One intention of developing StarOffice is to increase sales for Sun Desktop machines in lieu of those sold by mainstream OEMS. Offering a fully compatible office suite makes the sale easier, providing customers with incentive to buy without feeling that they are missing out on mission critical software. Sun also profits from OEM bundling and service and support.

Although no comprehensive study has been conducted recently on market share, Sun points to an unscientific Windows 2000 Magazine poll that reveals nearly a 15% stake in the market. According to Sun, Gartner Inc. has not commissioned a study since 1998.

Retail versions of StarOffice will be sold through a network of retailers such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and Staples. Sun is debating the addition of another CD and improved manual into its boxed edition, and therefore has not announced pricing. Previous releases, such as 5.2, sold at roughly $40 USD per copy. Select OEM partners will also ship the suite with new PCs. Versions will be available for Windows, Solaris, and Linux.

Product requirements will remain consistent with version 5.2

To sign up for early notification of the beta release, visit the StarOffice 6 Homepage.

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