Sun Microsystems began targeting the new European Union states in central and eastern Europe this week, by signing a no-charge education licensing programme with the Hungarian government that will make its StarOffice 7 productivity suite available to 5,500 schools and 67 higher educational institutions in the country.
"Sun is positioning itself to make a StarOffice play in new Europe," said James Governor, an analyst with RedMonk. "It's looking for a disruptive market force."
Although Eastern Europe only comprises about 8% of the IT market, according to Gartner, the region offers both new customers, and the potential of becoming a significant "nearshoring" location for western European companies that want to take advantage of its lower costs and close proximity.
Under the new agreement, Hungary's Ministry of Education will act as the central distribution point for StarOffice 7 and OpenOffice.org - an open source application and project to develop a multi-platform productivity suite - to the schools, which are independently run. The institutions will be able to download the software from a Ministry of Education website or receive it via CD.
Sun and Hungarian Ministry of Education representatives were unable to comment on how many students they expect to use the software.
Sun has taken particular aim at educational institutions, offering them a special no-charge licensing deal for StarOffice. To date, the company claims that 165,000 school districts in 24 countries have access to its software through the program, potentially touching more than 50 million students.
Although giving away software to students might not garner the support of financial analysts, to market analysts it's a smart move, said Governor, because it gets "them hooked at a young age". This is a strategy Microsoft has used for some time.
Government contracts are also attractive to vendors because they often entail numerous users while offering a sort of unofficial endorsement for their products. These qualities offer particular advantages to open-source software firms looking to fight Microsoft for the desktop.
"Microsoft is battling open source in the public sector and it sees Europe as the heart of the battle," said Governor.
Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service