Sun targets Microsoft users with StarOffice push

Sun Microsystems plans to give away its StarOffice 6.0 product to schools around the world and increase the number of languages...

Sun Microsystems plans to give away its StarOffice 6.0 product to schools around the world and increase the number of languages the software supports in an effort to steal market share from rival Microsoft, a Sun executive said yesterday (17 September).

Sun has been promoting StarOffice 6.0 as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft's Office suite. StarOffice offers features similar to Microsoft Office and has a nearly identical user interface.

Sun companies in many countries are in talks with local education authorities, such as ministries of education, to get the software into schools and universities. Educational customers will get the software for free, said Frank Bell, marketing director for Sun Netherlands. If the customers want many CD-ROMs, those can be provided at cost, he said.

"This is a worldwide program. Sun companies around the world are working to get it going," he said. A Sun vice-president for the educational market, Kim Jones, will visit several European countries next week to officially donate StarOffice, Bell said.

The special StarOffice offer for the educational market was first announced in May when Sun launched StarOffice as a commercial product, but the offer has not been put into practice until now to coincide with school calendars, said Bell.

Sun companies in Norway, Poland and The Netherlands are working on localised versions of StarOffice, said Bell. The software is available now in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Other local versions may follow, according to Bell. Through the expanded availability of StarOffice, Sun hopes to reach the enterprise user, the most lucrative market for the vendor, he said.

"Microsoft has heavily promoted use of [Microsoft] Office with home and educational users and from there Office grew into the enterprise. That is what we are doing now as well, through the retail channel on one side and through the educational market on the other," explained Bell.

StarOffice retails for $75.95 (£48) per copy and each copy can be used on up to five PCs. Microsoft Office XP Standard is priced at $479 (£312), and each copy can be used on only one PC. A boxed version of Office XP Standard for students and teachers is priced at $149 (£97).

Microsoft does offer special pricing for schools. School administrators can deploy Office for as little as $24 per desktop per year in the US through the software maker's School Agreement program, a Microsoft spokeswoman said. "Microsoft tries to be very responsive to the needs of the education community and has designed its pricing plans accordingly," she said.

Schools and corporate users alike have cried foul over Microsoft's revamped licensing policies. The revamped Microsoft licensing scheme, which analysts and users have said makes Microsoft software more expensive for most people, has increased interest in alternatives for Microsoft Office, one of Microsoft's most profitable products.

Read more on Operating systems software