Sun pits StarOffice against MS Office

Next week Sun will introduce StarOffice 6.0, the much anticipated, low-cost alternative to the Microsoft Office productivity...

Next week Sun will introduce StarOffice 6.0, the much anticipated, low-cost alternative to the Microsoft Office productivity suite

The company hopes it will be able to lure users away from Microsoft Office by positioning its own suite as a cheaper alternative.

Mike Rogers, vice-president and general manager for desktop and office productivity software at Sun, said, ""[Microsoft's] Office is not a bad product. But we feel the market needs an alternative, and [Office] is overpriced and inflexible in its licensing."

But with Microsoft Office's 90% share of the office productivity market, Sun could have a tough time convincing users.

Michael Silver, vice-president and research director at Gartner, said Sun has a "somewhat likely" chance of picking up 10% of total market share by the end of 2004. But this would depend on future licensing decisions by Microsoft.

Silver added that people are angry with Microsoft for introducing maintenance contracts that have mandated upgrades through its Software Assurance programme, which force businesses to either enter into long-term licensing contracts to receive free upgrades, or repurchase a licence each time they wish to upgrade after 31 July.

He also claimed that after MS Office users pay an up-front fee, Software Assurance costs 29% of the licence cost per year of coverage, plus a renewal fee once the contract expires.

If Microsoft were to make its licensing rules less stringent and remove the required update clause from its maintenance contracts, Sun would have a harder time making any kind of headway against Office, Silver admitted, but he added that Microsoft was unlikely to do so.

Microsoft is confident that users will not want to move to the office package. Nicole von Kaenel, product manager for Microsoft Office, said, "We're hearing from customers that value is more important than price because they know you get what you pay for."

She claimed the acquisition cost of StarOffice was dwarfed by the costs of migration, support and potential losses in user productivity stemming from training and a new learning curve.

The StarOffice 6.0 software launches next week. Business users will pay on a volume basis, with prices starting at $50 (£34) per user for a 150-user licence and decreasing to $25 (£17) per user for 10,000 or more user licences.

StarOffice licences allow each user to install the software on as many as five machines or devices. Retail users will pay $75.95 (£52) for the product, while educational customers need only to pay for the CD-Rom and shipping of the software.

Sun will distribute StarOffice through several Linux distributors, who will bundle the StarOffice product into their versions - or "distributions" - of the open-source operating system.

It will license StarOffice 6.0 to MandrakeSoft, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux, and Ximian for inclusion with their products, and other companies are in negotiations with Sun to bundle either StarOffice or the open-source version

Sun plans to announce agreements with PC manufacturers next month to bundle StarOffice 6.0 in their products.

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