Ontario’s Ministry of Education is bringing an open source-based office productivity suite into classrooms around the province after inking a deal with Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. for its StarOffice 7.

For a nominal fee — Sun charges schools the cost of shipping and media, but no licensing fees — the Ministry has selected the office suite for use in its 72 public and Catholic schoolboards, giving more than 2.5 million students access to the product. Through an extension of the licensing agreement, students and teachers are also allowed to use StarOffice at home, the Ministry said.

Based on OpenOffice.org’s OpenOffice suite, StarOffice comprises word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database applications. It differs from OpenOffice because it contains licensed third-party products such as spell-checking, thesaurus and the database component, Software AG Adabas D.

Corporations licensing StarOffice would have to pay more money than educational institutions, said Lynne Zucker, director, education and research, Sun Microsystems Of Canada in Markham, Ont. The Ministry saved about $25 per user because of Sun’s licensing scheme for schools. The fees for medium to large enterprises range from about US$50 per user for up to 150 users to US$25 per user for up to 10,000 users. Small businesses would be charged US$1,500 for 25 users, while home users would pay US$79.95.

However, the Ministry can’t force school boards or schools to deploy the software, said Linda Nicolson, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Education in Toronto. Additionally, Ontario’s schools aren’t abandoning Microsoft Corp.’s Office suite in favour of StarOffice — students will be able to use both, Nicolson added.

This also doesn’t mean the Ministry is looking to oust proprietary software from its desktops, Nicolson said. Making StarOffice available to students simply provides the opportunity for them to learn different platforms and provides an avenue for Sun to boost familiarity of its suite in the education sector, she added.

In Canada, Nova Scotia’s Ministry of Education has also licensed StarOffice but Sun’s deployments of the office suite have generally been concentrated in the post-secondary realm, Zucker said.

This deal is big news for Sun because it’s the company’s largest deployment of StarOffice in North America, she added. In comparison, the biggest deployment in the world is with the People’s Republic of China, signed in November 2003, when China decided to make Sun’s Java Desktop System (JDS) — which includes StarOffice — the country’s standard desktop platform. China has over 1.8 billion residents.

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