StarOffice meets Star Wars

In a big win for Sun, its StarOffice open source desktop productivity software was chosen as the Unix desktop solution for the US Department of Defence
Written by Peter Galli, Contributor

In a significant win for open source desktop productivity suites, Sun Microsystems Monday announced that the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) would implement up to 25,000 units of its StarOffice 5.2 software.

StarOffice, Sun's open source productivity application suite that includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and database applications for the Solaris, Windows and Linux platforms, would replace Applix on more than 10,000 of DISA's Unix workstations at 600 client organisations worldwide, said Susan Grabau, the product line manager for StarOffice.

DISA has already begun implementing StarOffice as the automation Unix desktop solution for its Global Command and Control System, she said. The deal had not cost DISA anything as there was no licence fee associated with StarOffice, and the federal government already had extensive support contracts with Sun which would cover this implementation, she said.

DISA could not immediately be reached for comment, but LTC William Hope, the chief engineer for DISA's Global Command and Control System, said in a statement that StarOffice "satisfies our requirement to operate an open office productivity suite globally on multiple platforms, including Linux, the Solaris operating environment and Windows".

Sun's Grabau told eWeek that the deal was another momentum marker for Sun and for non-Windows desktop productivity applications. There was growing demand for this type of software from enterprises and governments across the globe, she added.

"Italian taxpayers recently sent a petition to the government demanding it scale back spending on proprietary operating systems and desktop productivity suites when viable alternatives exist in the open source arena. The Chinese government is also very active in this space," Grabau said.

The German Finance Department was also investigating the use of a StarOffice and Sun Webtop solution. While this was still in development, the department found the use of XML file formats most appealing, she said. A French governmental research institution was also in the process of rolling out a similar solution.

"We have also seen empirical evidence of many other US federal government adoptions, and are some ways down the road on several other similar adoptions by other governmental departments and agencies. Customers are finding StarOffice appealing for many reasons, including cost control and the fact that it offers an alternative to the Windows platform. Many users are also very angry over Microsoft's ever-changing licensing programs," Grabau said.

StarOffice was able to be deployed side-by-side with Windows, and its file formats appeared fully compatible with all versions of Microsoft Office, from the recently-released Office XP backwards, she added.

Sun is also on track to release StarOffice 6 later this year. Iyer Venkatesan, the senior product manager for StarOffice, told eWeek in late April that StarOffice 6 would include the recently finalised XML file format specifications, which would make file sharing far easier.

"Files will now be able to be saved in either an XML format or in the current binary format. The lets users easily share information across applications, and will simplify the importing and exporting of files from different programs while greatly improving file sharing and readability," he said.

The various components would also be launched separately in StarOffice 6, helping to improve performance. Asian language support will also be included, covering simplified and traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean, completing Sun's localization road map.

Open source software is also clearly on the radar screen at many governmental departments and agencies. At the first ever Federal Linux User's conference in Washington DC late last year, a number of Federal government agencies challenged the major Linux vendors to significantly step up their efforts to promote the use of open source software across the government.

The agencies -- including the Department of Defence, the Bureau of the Public Debt, NIST, the Army and USAID -- all use Linux and other open source software to some degree. But they were frustrated at the fact that this usage was not officially sanctioned in many cases.

Mark Norton, the principal technical adviser for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense/Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, said at that time that Linux was used in many of the department's low level research and development programs.

However, it would only be adopted more widely if programs were put in place to guide and reduce the risk of open source use, such as making Linux compliant with its Common Operating Environment.

The Defence Department was interested in open source technology as it was adaptable to new systems, offered state-of-the-art support software at a fraction of the price of proprietary systems, as well as improved performance and reliability.

But the biggest obstacle was that it had not been security tested or validated against the department's standards. However, this was possible down the line, as the National Security Agency was engaged on this issue and was using Linux at the research and development level. "Whether Linux actually gets validated against our security standards will depend on the level of interest by our customers and the major Linux vendors," he said.

Sun's Grabau said the company was very aware of these issues and requirements and was actively working on them, for both Solaris and StarOffice.

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