Sun sheds light on OpenOffice strategy

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Sun Microsystems has vowed to make its free office suite every bit as good as its paid-for offering..

The company plans to give the upcoming version of its proprietary StarOffice suite a virtually identical feature set to that of the free open-source OpenOffice package.

Both products are alternatives to Microsoft Office and are based on the ODF document format, the rival to Microsoft's OpenXML. The two systems have long held similar features and have shared much of the same source code.

Sun's new strategy will have the free suite targeting consumers, while the StarOffice suite will be pitched to enterprise customers. The main difference, said the company, will be support.

Sun will offer support for StarOffice, mainly through distributors, as well as indemnity against lawsuits on the software, something that OpenOffice cannot guarantee enterprise users.

"With end users, it's crazy for us to compete. OpenOffice is free," said Mark Herring, senior director of Sun's project.

"But if you're an enterprise or a distributer, it makes sense. If you're interested in a commercial entity standing behind it, that's when you get it."

Herring said that Sun will push StarOffice by providing what it terms 'back-end support' in which the company provides support advice to the distributors and handles the development and distribution of patches.

In addition to the commercial version of the suite, Sun also plans to make money by way of a conversion tool. Currently known as StarOffice server, the $10,000 software package will allow enterprises to automatically convert all their documents to the new file formats.

While the pricey tool will initially be targeted to larger enterprises with massive document collections, Herring said that Sun plans to eventually turn the tool into a web-based service in which all users can convert their files.

He warned, however, that such a service is still off on the horizon.

"Software as a service, that's the high level," he explained.

"Right now we're still working on a business model."
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