StarOffice 8 Faces Delays, MS Pressure

A British executive for Sun said on Friday that the release date for the company's StarOffice 8 suite would now be September 12, almost two months later than originally anticipated. The office productivity software sees wide use in the Linux community, and includes word processing and spreadsheet applications.

However, news surfaced late Thursday that the Microsoft Office alternative lost a large contract, striking a blow to Sun's efforts and raising questions as to the suite's viability outside of the Linux and open source community.

A beta of StarOffice 8 was first made available in February. Most notably, the new version is intended to make the software easier to learn and use, reducing migration and training cost.

Features such as toolbars and menus, down to headers and footers, resemble Microsoft Office and have adopted terminology used by Redmond's ubiquitous office software.

Sun felt it was best to let the date slip so the suite could launch with other new desktop applications. Because of this, "the company decided that they'd rather do a September StarOffice launch," Simon Schouten, the U.K. desktop sales manager for Sun, said at a company event.

Now scheduled for a release alongside StarOffice would be Java Desktop System, Tarantella, and Sun Ray.

Release delays are not the only problem Sun is facing with boosting StarOffice adoption. The company lost a contract to Microsoft on Thursday as the Central Scotland Police switched back to Microsoft Office due to compatibility issues.

The police force switched 400 Windows-based computers from Office to StarOffice in 2000. However, post September 11, compatibility issues between the two competing office suites caused communications problems, so the group recently signed a 500-computer contract to deploy Microsoft Office 2003.

Even though the next version of StarOffice was to feature better interoperability, it appears that the Central Scotland Police were not interested in waiting. -- the open source office suite on which StarOffice is based -- was also recently delayed to give developers time to fix bugs and ensure compatibility with the OpenDocument format. That delay may have affected Sun's release timetable as well.

While the public beta period for StarOffice 8 ended in April, Sun said on it's Web site that upon release of the software, users will have a 90-day period to evaluate the suite at no charge.

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