Free office suite reaches milestone release 1.0 is now available for free download, using technology from Sun and the open-source community to attract users disenchanted with Microsoft Office developers have put the finishing touches on their productivity suite, as end-users and businesses continue to show interest in alternatives to Microsoft software. The free OpenOffice uses the same code base as Sun Microsystems' fee-based StarOffice. 1.0 is intended as a replacement for Microsoft Office, including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation maker and other applications. It is the result of 18 months of collaboration between Sun developers and more than 10,000 volunteer developers, which began when Sun donated the StarOffice code to the open-source or "free software" community.

Under the open-source development model, the application's original code is freely available for developers to modify and redistribute, as long as the redistributed versions continue to be open. For example, Finland's SOT sells an office suite based partly on OpenOffice.

OpenOffice has been a useable product for months, but the release of a 1.0 version is important partly from a psychological point of view, since many users and businesses are reluctant to adopt a product before it has reached its first "full" release. StarOffice 6.0, the update to version 5.2, is expected to be arrive in a few weeks.

While is a separate project from StarOffice, including contributions directly from thousands of volunteer developers, Sun draws heavily on OpenOffice code for StarOffice -- to the point where the basic programming code and functionality of the two suites is nearly identical. StarOffice contains some enhancements not found in OpenOffice, such as special fonts and a database, and also has support and training services available from Sun.

StarOffice 6.0 is available now as a part of paid versions of the latest Linux distribution from MandrakeSoft.

Sun bought StarOffice from a German firm, and initially gave the software away. Version 6.0, which is generally considered much more usable than its predecessor, was free in beta-test form, but Sun said it found that businesses were more receptive to a paid-for product. Industry analysts say moving to a pay basis could actually increase StarOffice's penetration in businesses.

"If StarOffice becomes a profitable business for Sun, enterprises will incur less risk and be more assured of the product's longevity," wrote Gartner analyst Michael Silver in a March report. "Gartner remains sceptical of the business model for free office software."

Both StarOffice and run on various flavours of Linux and Unix, as well as on Windows.

Many enterprises have grown uneasy over Microsoft's increasingly draconian licensing plans, and have been evaluating alternatives, according to industry observers. Partly because of this, Gartner believes StarOffice has a chance of gaining 10 percent of the productivity suite market by 2004.

Mozilla, an open-source version of the Netscape browser, has also benefited from interest in alternatives to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Mozilla 1.0 is expected in the next few weeks.

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