A free version of Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice business productivity suite is now available for download from OpenOffice.org, an open-source developer community sponsored by Sun.

OpenOffice.org 1.0 provides users with a near-identical software package to Microsoft Corp.’s Office suite, featuring word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs, said OpenOffice.org in a statement Wednesday.

The source code from the previous release, StarOffice 5.2, was the code base for both OpenOffice.org 1.0 and StarOffice 6.0, but the two products are both advances over that version. The StarOffice 5.2 software was distributed as a free download prior to the release of 6.0. Sun’s desire to capture business customers led it to offer paid support contracts for 6.0, and still allow free downloads of an improved release, OpenOffice.org 1.0, for users who didn’t require support or training.

StarOffice 6.0, announced in March and slated for availability this month, comes with additional features such as a database and special fonts. Sun, in Palo Alto, Calif., also provides training for StarOffice, which will be priced at under US$100, according to an earlier Sun announcement.

E-mail and calendar functions that were disliked by users of StarOffice 5.2 have been removed from OpenOffice.org 1.0, said Zaheda Bhorat, a community manager for OpenOffice.org and a marketing manager for Sun in Santa Clara, Calif. Future releases will add those functions back in when the community agrees on the best way to do that, she said.

The product also contains support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), which will allow users to save files to PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other mobile devices when plug-ins for that type of file transfer are completed, said Sam Hiser, co-leader of the marketing project at OpenOffice.org and chief information officer of New York startup ReelAmerica Inc.

Users running Linux, Windows, Solaris, and other Unix flavors will be able to run OpenOffice.org 1.0. A port for Macintosh users is in the works, said Bhorat. The software also was set up to work with several different file formats so Microsoft Word and Excel files could be kept and worked with in the new version. However, macros and other specially created programs for the Microsoft products will not work with OpenOffice.org 1.0, Hiser said.

Schools, public sector organizations, and companies in developing countries are among the targets of OpenOffice.org 1.0, Hiser said.

“(The software) is a natural companion to Linux,” and organizations can significantly cut IT budgets through installing free products like OpenOffice.org 1.0 on their networks, he said.

The software is currently available in English, according to the OpenOffice.org Web site, but versions in other languages will be released over the next few days, Bhorat said. OpenOffice.org 1.0 will consume 49MB of storage space on a Windows machine, 67MB on a Linux machine, and 69MB on a Solaris machine, according to data on the Web site.

The development effort for OpenOffice.org included more than 10,000 developers, marketers and end users worldwide. Code was written and debugged using CollabNet Inc.’s SourceCast application for distributed software development teams. The software can be downloaded at http://www.openoffice.org/.