Sun to release StarOffice 6.1 beta

Sun Microsystems Inc. is gearing up to release the first public beta of the next version of StarOffice, hoping to boost the level of competition in the market for desktop productivity software.

The beta version of StarOffice 6.1 will be available for download from Sun’s Web site by the middle of next week and adds features designed to make it more appealing to large businesses, said Iyer Venkatesan, Sun’s product line manager for StarOffice. The final version of the product is expected to ship in September or October, he said.

“The main focus with 6.1 is the enterprise. We made it ready for enterprise deployment,” he said.

The company faces some healthy competition. Corel Corp. said earlier this week that it planned to ship the next version of its productivity suite, WordPerfect Office 11, in late April. [Please see Corel announces WordPerfect 11.] And market leader Microsoft Corp. is widely expected to release the final public beta of Office 2003, an upgrade to its own desktop productivity suite, early next week.

The StarOffice beta will be available for Sun Solaris, Linux and versions of Windows from Windows 98 onwards, Venkatesan said. Sun hopes to sign up about 50,000 users for the beta trial, and will screen them to ensure an even mix of platforms, languages and types of user are represented. About 10,000 users have already signed up for the test, according to Venkatesan.

The main enhancements in 6.1 include management tools that make it easier for businesses to deploy and configure the suite across a large number of systems. Sun also made the product compatible with tools used by people with disabilities, such as screen magnifiers and text-to-speech engines, which is a requirement for products to be used by the U.S. government, Venkatesan said.

The beta will be available next week in six European languages – English, German, Spanish, Swedish, French and Italian – as well as in Japanese, Korean and Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Venkatesan said. With version 6.1 Sun included a handful of technologies that will allow it to begin translating the product into more “complex languages” such as Hebrew and Arabic, Venkatesan said.

He acknowledged the level of competition posed by Microsoft but said StarOffice has several selling points. It is compatible with Microsoft Office file formats, its user interface is similar to that of Office making the learning process easy, and Sun offers more flexible licensing terms than Microsoft, according to Venkatesan. For example, users can purchase one license for the product and then install it on up to five machines that they own, such as a desktop at work and a laptop at home, he said.

Sun also hopes the price tag will be a big lure. StarOffice sells at retail for US$75.95 and is available to enterprises from US$60 per user for 25 seats, he said. The retail price for the professional edition of Office XP is US$579.99, according to Microsoft’s Web site, with discounts available for volume purchases.

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