Sun Microsystems plans to release a new version of StarOffice that includes new features to address the software's compatibility with Microsoft Office, one of the chief areas of complaint among users of Sun's office productivity suite.
The California-based company has also signed two distribution deals with software publishers in the U.S. and Europe to put the product on more retail shelves, said Herb Hinstorff, director of marketing for Sun's Client Systems Group.
Encore Software in the U.S. and Avanquest Software in Europe will be distributing StarOffice 8 to retail stores when the packaged version of the product, which lists for US$99.95, is available to retail channels in October, he said. The product also will be available for download for US$69.95 from Sun's Web site Tuesday, Hinstorff said.
StarOffice 8 includes a macro converter that automatically converts Microsoft Office macros to work in StarOffice, said Iyer Venkatesan, a product line manager at Sun Microsystems. The product also enables easier conversion from Microsoft Office of features such as tables and password-protected files, he said.
Additionally, Sun improved the look and feel of the product to be more familiar to Microsoft Office users, Venkatesan said.
Other new features in StarOffice 8 are "context-sensitive toolbars" for specific tasks that automatically pop up when a user begins one of those tasks in an application, he said. For example, if a user begins building a table in StarOffice's word-processing application, a toolbar for building tables will open, he said.
The toolbars can be placed anywhere on the screen depending on a user's choice, Venkatesan added. In previous versions of the suite, toolbars were stationary.
StarOffice 8 also is the first office productivity suite to support Open Document Format for Office Applications, or OpenDocument, as the standard for office documents. Developed within the standards body OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), OpenDocument is an XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based file format that covers the features required by text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents.
OpenDocument gained attention recently when the state of Massachusetts decided to support the format for all office documents within the agencies of its executive branch. Sun believes there is a growth opportunity for StarOffice because it is the first commercial office suite to support OpenDocument, Venkatesan said .
Sun does not break out StarOffice sales, and Sun did not provide statistical information for any traction the product may have against Microsoft Office in the market. However, Hinstorff said there have been more than 53 million downloads of StarOffice and OpenOffice, the open-source version of the software on which Sun's suite is built.
StarOffice 8 is the first new version of Sun's office productivity suite in a year and a half. The new version originally was scheduled to be available in July, but was delayed as OpenOffice.org made significant changes to its version of its software.
The OpenOffice.org delay, in turn, held up the release of StarOffice, Hinstorff said. "There was an extensive beta period [in which] we received lots of comments and suggestions," he said. "We didn't rush something out; we wanted it to be right. We believe now it is ready and of high quality."
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