Linux distributor MandrakeSoft officially announced the availability of StarOffice 6.0 for Mandrake Club members on Monday, making it the first major Linux distributor to offer the final version of the office suite to its users. The release followed a pre-announcement last week which led to frustration among some of the Club members who were excluded from the offer.
The new software is available for download from MandrakeSoft's Web site.
StarOffice is Sun Microsystems' alternative to the dominant Microsoft Office productivity suite, and is based on open-source software, which requires developers to make their contributions freely available to the public. The open-source elements of StarOffice are available as a free download in the form of OpenOffice, and StarOffice itself was until the end of last year available as a free download.
Version 6.0 includes significant improvements over version 5.2, such as an XML-based file format, improved file filters, support for OLE objects and a redesigned user interface. It won't go on sale to the general public until next month, and pricing has not yet been disclosed, but Sun is allowing OEMs such as MandrakeSoft to bundle it with other software for a reduced licence fee.
Sun recently announced its decision to begin charging for StarOffice as a way of making the software more attractive to businesses. The decision was controversial for some in the open-source community; Eric Raymond, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, said, "If OpenOffice still exists... and they're going to start charging for StarOffice, then they just shot StarOffice through the head."
The move also meant OEMs had to re-evaluate their StarOffice licensing schemes. Under Sun's bundling plan, MandrakeSoft decided to offer the software to Mandrake Club members with "Silver" and higher memberships, as offering it to all members would have been prohibitively expensive. Offering the software to basic members for an additional one-off charge was not allowed under Sun's OEM agreement, MandrakeSoft said.
The company said it hadn't handled the announcement as well as it could have, due to a combination of factors including the sudden change in StarOffice's licensing policy, the release of the new Mandrake Linux 8.2 distribution and the CeBIT trade show. Some confusion among Club members was "prompted by a press release that was released prematurely, which mentioned StarOffice 6.0 and the Mandrake Users Club," said MandrakeSoft co-founder Gael Duval in a statement posted on Monday on MandrakeSoft's Web site.
Some basic members were surprised they were not given access to StarOffice 6.0, because of a statement on the Mandrake Club Web site which said "Note: All membership levels enjoy the same benefits."
"Mandrake accepted money, now is denying the benefits paid for," one Mandrake user told ZDNet UK. "It would seem fair to change the policy for new members, but not once money changes hands." The company received other complaints in its user forums.
The company admitted the wording of the note might have been confusing, since additional features for higher-level club members had always been planned. "Maybe we weren't very good at communicating this fact, because this looked so obvious," said the forum moderator, Denis Havlik, in a statement on the site.
He downplayed the complaints, telling ZDNet UK that the "great majority of the members (are) in fact pleased by the move."
Such scuffles are nothing new in the open-source world, which by its nature relies on the support of developer communities. Another recent debate, for example, revolved around whether Linus Torvalds -- who personally finalises all changes to Linux's core software -- should take on an assistant. That controversy was quickly settled by the introduction of software to automate the so-called kernel-patching process.