Sun adds price tag to StarOffice 6.0

Sun Microsystems has revealed its pricing strategy for StarOffice, the formerly free competitor to the Microsoft Office monolith

Sun Microsystems will bundle StarOffice 6.0, its productivity software, with additional services and support to make the package more attractive when it begins charging for the tools next month. The company has not yet revealed exact pricing, but said on Wednesday that it will charge less than $100.

The paid strategy is a new one for StarOffice, which Sun offers as an alternative to Microsoft's dominant Office suite. Version 5.2 sells for £24.99 in boxed format, largely to pay for the cost of manuals and CDs, but the downloadable version has been free since 1999, when Sun bought its German maker Star Division. With version 6.0, considered a vast improvement over its predecessor, there will be no free downloads, and Sun will add Web-based training and free technical support to the package.

Not everyone will have to pay the full price, or anything at all, for the new software. Sun hardware buyers will continue to get StarOffice 6.0 pre-installed with Solaris, and other hardware manufacturers and Linux distributors will also bundle the software with their products. In the UK, StarOffice is bundled with some low-cost PCs and MandrakeSoft has announced it will ship StarOffice 6.0 with Mandrake Linux 8.2 next month.

Schools will only have to pay for the cost of the CDs and shipping. For large organisations, a "nominal" per-user pricing structure will be available.

OpenOffice, which includes the basic components of StarOffice covered by the GPL open-source licence, will continue to be available for free download from its Web site.

Microsoft, which dominates both the productivity software and operating system markets, has begun upping its prices for enterprises, leading to renewed interest in alternatives like Linux and StarOffice. Sun says that the beta version of StarOffice 6.0 received nearly one million download requests in its first three months of availability.

The company found that users felt more comfortable paying for software than downloading it for free. "Through the StarOffice 6.0 beta programme, we gained valuable customer feedback saying they would prefer to pay for a product from Sun that was bundled with value-added support and services," said Mike Rogers, vice president and general manager of desktop and office productivity, in a statement.

However, some open-source advocates expressed dismay at the plan to charge for StarOffice. "If OpenOffice still exists, and it's GPLed, and they're going to start charging for StarOffice, then they just shot StarOffice through the head," said Eric Raymond, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.

StarOffice, designed to be compatible with Microsoft Office document formats, handles word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, Web publishing, database and other productivity functions.


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