Sun Microsystems is to drop its free downloads of StarOffice 5.2 on Wednesday night, as it ramps up promotional efforts around the fee-based StarOffice 6.0, the company said. In the meantime, Sun and Ximian announced a distribution deal bundling StarOffice 6.0 with fee-based Ximian products.
Sun's manoeuvres with StarOffice are being closely watched as open-source software businesses continue to search for ways to boost revenues. Paid, proprietary software is controversial in the open-source world, which is based on the theory that profits can be made on "free" products, but some open-source companies say it is the only way to continue to fund themselves.
Sun said it will stop free downloads of StarOffice 5.2 at midnight on Wednesday night, but will continue selling two packaged versions of the product: US$39.95 for StarOffice 5.2 Deluxe and US$9.95 for StarOffice 5.2 Slim Kit. StarOffice 6.0 can be bought as a packaged product or a download.
"With the introduction and availability of StarOffice 6.0 Office Suite, the StarOffice 5.2 download product will be removed on Wednesday May 29," Sun said in a note on its Web site.
The decision completes the transition of the StarOffice suite back to being a paid product, as it was when Sun bought the software along with its maker, Germany's Star Division, in 1999. Sun showed its intent to make StarOffice into a serious competitor for Microsoft Office when it first began giving away StarOffice 5.2 and then, in 2000, donated the StarOffice 5.2 source code to open-source developers.
Ximian, which makes a desktop environment and productivity software for Linux, said last week it will join companies such as MandrakeSoft in distributing StarOffice 6.0 with its "premium" fee-based products. The office suite will be bundled with the boxed version of Ximian Desktop Professional Edition, and with Red Carpet Express and Red Carpet CorporateConnect.
Since 2000, the free, proprietary StarOffice has co-existed with the free, open-source OpenOffice.org -- a collaboration between Sun developers and open-source programmers across the Internet. Open-source software can be freely modified and redistributed, as long as the modified version is distributed under the same open-source licence.
OpenOffice and Sun say that StarOffice 6.0 uses the same code base as the new OpenOffice 1.0, with a few proprietary additions. Sun says it has made the move to charge for StarOffice 6.0 mainly because businesses feel more comfortable with fee-based products.
However, the decision to promote StarOffice over OpenOffice, and impose StarOffice's US$76 price tag, has divided open-source developers, many of whom are against proprietary software on principle.
Linux distributor MandrakeSoft attracted a share of the criticism when earlier this year it offered StarOffice 6.0 as a perk to some of its paid members. MandrakeSoft launched the paid subscriptions programme because it, like other open-source companies, is looking for ways of boosting revenues.
In April, SuSE decided to offer OpenOffice instead of StarOffice in its Linux distribution. "It wouldn't make sense to have a proprietary application based on an open-source code base (in SuSE Linux)," said Jurgen Geck, SuSE's head of technology partners and strategic alliances, at the time.
Ximian bundling StarOffice
Ximian entered the fray late last year when it released a Microsoft Outlook clone for Linux, along with a proprietary tool for connecting the software to Microsoft Exchange servers. Ximian's other offerings are available either as a free download or for purchase as packaged products.
Ximian is likely to reignite last year's controversy with its decision to follow in MandrakeSoft's wake, bolstering the paid versions of its Ximian Desktop and Red Carpet offerings with StarOffice 6.0.
Ximian Desktop includes a desktop environment, the Evolution email client and other open-source applications. Red Carpet is a service for finding, downloading and installing new applications. Red Carpet Express and Red Carpet CorporateConnect are fee-based versions of the service, which is also available in a free version with slower download speeds.
Ximian emphasised that the paid software is aimed at corporate customers. "Ximian is dedicated to advancing the adoption of the Linux desktop, especially for corporate customers increasingly looking to Linux," said David Patrick, Ximian's chief executive and president, in a statement.