The deal will put StarOffice 6.0 on select Sony Vaio desktops sold in Europe by the end of the year. It will be available in English, French, German and Italian, said Nancy Lee, group product marketing manager with Sun's StarOffice division. "We expect that our relationship with Sony is going to expand to other countries and markets," she said.
Sun's announcement is the latest in a string of deals that computer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have made with software vendors to install products other than Microsoft Office. In North America, Sony already has a deal with Corel to ship the WordPerfect productivity suite on some Vaio desktop and notebook PCs.
Sun and Corel share a tiny slice of the desktop software pie. They claimed lower prices and increased compatibility with Office are making their products attractive alternatives as they look to steal business from Microsoft.
The companies concede that they are forced to share only a small chunk of the consumer market, and even less of the corporate market. "We're not going to have major market share competition with Microsoft," said Corel executive vice-president of strategic relations Steve Houck.
However, a weakening PC market has allowed Sun and Corel to appeal to hardware makers where it counts - the price tag. "What we're hearing from a lot of these OEMs is that they're being able to provide more value with their desktop machines," said Sun's Lee.
A retail version of StarOffice 6.0 is priced at $76 (£48). Corel sells versions of WordPerfect for between $50 and $250. Meanwhile, Microsoft sells the standard edition of Office XP for $479, and its lower-cost Works package for about $99. All of the products are sold to OEMs at a discount.
Microsoft acknowledged that OEMs are basing their decisions on "economics in the industry". Most Office alternatives are installed on low-end, entry-level machines "where consumers are more sensitive to price than performance", a Microsoft spokeswoman said.
"A couple of small deals in the desktop productivity markets won't push Microsoft over the edge," Illuminata analysts wrote in August, "but this was supposed to be a war Microsoft had already won."