Sun Microsystems has stepped up its efforts to barge open a space in the office software market currently dominated by Microsoft. In Australia, Sun is offering educational and non-profit institutions almost unlimited rights to use its suite of office productivity software StarOffice 6.0 for a nominal fee, believing that it will "sow the seeds" for a large enterprise user-base.
Non-profit and educational institutions can buy the right copy and distribute the software to their members for vocational and personal use for AU$183 (£51). Prior to announcing the move a StarOffice 6.0 licence package for 500 users would have cost a university or school AU$71,000.
StarOffice 6.0 is the result of Sun's strategy to develop a competitor to Microsoft's Office software suite that began around five years ago. Prior versions of the software were distributed freely under open source licenses. StarOffice 6.0 is the first commercial release of the package.
While a StarOffice 6.0 single-user retail license costs AU$209, Microsoft Office XP which dominates the markets retails for between AU$300 and AU$1100. A spokesperson for Sun said that while Microsoft's monopoly over the desktop market is difficult to break it is not impossible.
According to Sun's estimates when combined, the non-profit organisation and educational institution markets represent about five million potential users. Sun has distributed 181 copies of the StarOffice 6.0 to Australian enterprises for evaluation.
Sun, which is touting its latest offer as a "donation" to Australian education, may also stand to gain from support contracts sales spurred by interest in the software.
Sun offers support contracts to educational institutions at a discounted rate of AU$4752 per year. The contract allows for unlimited phone support for two named individuals within each organisation.
Sources close to Sun said that the move could increase take-up of support contracts but that the margins involved in the service were not assured.