Whether Google Docs & Spreadsheets is a full-fledged Microsoft Office competitor is up for debate. But StarOffice, Sun's desktop-productivity suite, is definitely a head-to-head Office rival. And StarOffice distributed by Google? There's no way anyone could claim that isn't meant to be a direct shot across the Microsoft Office bow.
Over the weekend, Google began offering StarOffice for download as part of its Google Pack. Instead of charging the $70 per copy that Sun has levied for StarOffice, Google made the office suite available for free.
As the Google Operating System blog notes, the next logical step, from Sun/Google's perspective,
"would probably be the addition of a plug-in that lets you synchronize local documents with Google Docs & Spreadsheets, so you can have the best of the both worlds: edit complicated documents offline, collaborate and store files securely online. For now, StarOffice is integrated with Google Search and Google Desktop."
I asked Sun what gives. I received the following response from a spokesperson:
"Sun is soon going to make an important announcement regarding Sun's StarOffice software, and it is related to the questions you asked (which was, "What's up with Google distributing StarOffice for free"?). The announcement is likely to have significant impact in the industry about the adoption of Open Document Format and availability of free MS Office-compatible comprehensive office suite."
Wasn't this Sun-Google StarOffice arrangement the big announcement expected from the Dynamic Microsoft-fighting Duo back in 2005 (that never materialized)? Sounds like it to me.
I'm not sure why Sun is waiting until August 15 to reveal more particulars, since Google basically preannounced the deal by making StarOffice available for download. Guess we'll hear more tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Office might get yet another credible competitor in the not-too-distant future: Adobe Systems. Wired couldn't quite get the Adobe folks to admit their office-suite aspirations, but they came pretty close:
"According to Adobe group manager for platform evangelism, Mike Downey, it wouldn't be outlandish to predict the company throws its hat into the ring soon.
"'Though we have not yet announced any intentions to move into the office-productivity software market," he says, "considering we have built this platform that makes it easy to build rich applications that run on both the desktop and the browser, I certainly wouldn't rule anything like that out.'"
At long last, it looks like Microsoft Office, with its 90+ percent market share, may get some serious competition.