Big names plan to pre-install Sun’s StarOffice

Sun Microsystems Inc. released word Thursday that a number of PC makers would pre-install the latest version of Sun’s open-source software productivity suite on their machines.

Among the broad list of clients, Sun announced deals with Sony Corp., Everex Systems Inc. and Gateway Inc., who all confirmed their intentions to bundle and distribute the StarOffice 5.2 software on selected desktop and/or laptops. A Gateway representative said that the deal would ensure that customers receive a low-cost product offering all of the standard applications desired in an office suite.

Sun designed the software to run on Windows 95, 98, NT and 2000 operating systems, in addition to the Linux and its own Solaris OSes. The multi-platform StarOffice suite includes word processing, spreadsheet, graphics presentation, drawing and photo editing applications. Additionally, users have access to HTML (hypertext markup language) creation and editing functions along with other Internet-related features.

Susan Grabau, Sun’s StarOffice product line manager, said that these high-profile partnerships should extend the company’s reach so it can better compete with bitter rival Microsoft Corp., whose Office product is the most widely used desktop applications suite.

While some analysts see the Sun suite as being directed more towards home users, Grabau believes the software is also suitable for business use. “StarOffice is very comparable in functionality to Microsoft Office,” she said. In some areas, such as its support of Linux, Sun may even go beyond what Microsoft’s Office currently provides, Grabau said. “There is no Microsoft answer to the Linux platform,” she pointed out.

Sun’s bundling deals with the likes of Sony are move in the right direction, according to Chris Le Tocq, research director at market analysis company Gartner Group Inc., based in San Jose, California. However, he doubted that the partnerships will have much impact on Microsoft’s sales.

“For Gateway, (StarOffice) is there and users will load it up if they want to, but it’s no big deal,” Le Tocq said. He feels that a substantial marketing effort by Sun and its partners would be required to make a real impact on the market.

Sun apparently agrees with Le Tocq’s recommendations, as representatives from the company confirmed that joint marketing ventures would soon be announced. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor will work with both current and newly named partners in these endeavors.

In related news, Sun has been planning to unveil the delayed Net version of the suite known as StarPortal by the end of this month, at the latest. The project, however, has been slow going and now seems well behind schedule. “It is proving a challenge for them,” Le Tocq said.

Sun’s project should be ready by October and will not only give users access to open-source code but will also provide filters to allow Sun customers to use Microsoft’s rival products. Collab.Net Inc. will manage a Web site dedicated to overseeing the development of StarOffice-related software. In addition, Sun will release the source code under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Developers can modify software, created under the GPL, with any changes made freely available to the community. As some companies may fear releasing customized applications, Sun also offers a secondary license called Sun Industry Standard Source License.

Rich Black, a Sony representative, said that his company would only bundle StarOffice on entry-level desktops, not on laptops. While he noted that StarOffice is a complete set of applications, Black said that Microsoft Word appeals to users in search of a more professional type of software “We are going after different customers with the products,” Black said.

Plans have been laid out to deliver a version of StarOffice compatible with Apple Computer Inc. computers. “We are a certified Macintosh developer,” Sun’s Grabau said. She did not give a date as to when a Mac-based suite would be announced.

Sun claims to have distributed 15 million copies of StarOffice, with close to 3 million copies downloaded from Sun’s Web site.

Sun can be reached at Sony, in Tokyo, is at