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Sun to take on MS Office with free, web-sourced Star

Making StarOffice a web app and giving it away could be a killer combination

Sun claims its purchase of Star Division and its StarOffice suite, due to be announced today, isn't intended to put it into direct competition with Microsoft Office. But its plans for the product could nevertheless pose a very real threat for MS. Sun intends to turn StarOffice into a web-based application suite which can be run from any browser, anywhere.

It will do this via a new version of StarOffice, StarPortal, which will be unveiled in October, and which will allow users to access applications across the web via a Java applet. Sun is also making the source for StarOffice and StarPortal freely available, and will allow corporate users to distribute the existing version of StarOffice for free. Star Division already allows personal users to download StarOffice for free, but charges for corporate use.

Effectively, Sun is proposing to make a flanking move on MS Office. StarOffice is multi-platform, and could have been a viable competitor to Microsoft on the desktop, but giving it away for free, and more important giving it away as a web application, could be the killer combination.

Applications are beginning to move out onto the web, while the rise of low-resource mobile devices means that more and more users will have a need for fully-specced applications but won't always have the ability to run them locally. At the same time ISPs and portal services are continually looking for ways to add value for their customers, and in that context being able to offer access to a decent productivity suite for free is a no-brainer.

Meanwhile Microsoft remains home of the big, baggy application that won't be easily 'websourced,' and Microsoft's networking software and licensing contracts impede the company's ability to offer web applications cheaply, never mind for free. Provided Sun doesn't blow this one, it could make a serious dent in Microsoft's applications revenues. ®

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