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Staroffice opens up the desktop

Nick Langley
Open source productivity suite provides alternative to MS.

What is it?

Staroffice is a low-cost, open source alternative to Microsoft Office. It lacks the functional richness and some components of Microsoft Office, but aims to provide the core word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database functions most users need. It has no equivalent to Outlook. Its file formats are said to be fully compatible with their Microsoft equivalents: they are XML-based and can be read and modified by any XML-enabled application.

Where did it originate?

German company StarDivision developed Staroffice in the mid-1980s. Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 and made Staroffice 5.2 open source, but took it back again with version 6, while continuing to support and share the codebase with Openoffice.

What is it for?

Staroffice, now at version 7, has technology not available in the open source version, notably the Adabas D database. It comes on CDs instead of by download, and has web-based support from Sun and a helpdesk for those who do not want to rely on the goodwill of the open source community. Staroffice is part of Sun's Java Desktop System, which matches some elements of Microsoft Office, such as calendaring and instant messaging.

What makes it special?

Staroffice costs about 20% of the price of Microsoft Office, and the licensing is per-user rather than processor-based, allowing individuals to deploy it on up to five machines. In some ways it is just catching up with Microsoft Office: the macro recorder for automating repetitive tasks came in last autumn with Staroffice 7, but it is far ahead in XML enablement. When the Israeli government dropped Microsoft Office in favour of Openoffice, Microsoft sneered that the functionality was the equivalent of Office 97. But many users are satisfied with Office 97 and only moved on because support was withdrawn.

How difficult is it to master?

Sun said studies show that users familiar with Microsoft Office experience less than one second's delay when using similar features in Staroffice. It includes a configuration manager for centralised administration of deployment, security and user profiles, and a development kit for customisation using Java, C++ and Starbasic.

Where is it used?

According to Sun, there are more than 40 million Staroffice users worldwide.The company said it can be deployed on an enterprise scale to more than 10,000 users. It is being pushed hardest in parts of the world where Microsoft is not already dominant, but European governments and US states are shortlisting or buying it.

What systems does it run on?

Sun Solaris, Windows and Linux.

What is coming up?

Sun promises the complete Java Desktop System for Solaris later this year.

Training

Staroffice courses for IT professionals are available from Sun and many independent trainers. For free tutorial see:

www.OpenOffice.org 

www.debianhelp.org

Rates of pay

Currently there is little demand for Staroffice or Openoffice skills, but this should change with the release of the full Java Desktop System.

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