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Editor's Note: Brilliant Disguise

Sun to Release StarOffice under GPL

  • August 7, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

I have to admit that I find a lot of corporate maneuvering to be, well, boring. I don't really care that Tide is new or improved, and it matters little to me that there are now multiple competitors to the Swiffer or Swifter or whatever the heck they call it.

This lack of concern usually extends into my workspace. I love Linux and want to see it (as well as Open Source) succeed, but most of the time I find that companies centered around Linux and Open Source tend to spend way too much time reacting to events (i.e., the release of new versions of Microsoft Windows) rather than leading the way. And, let's be honest: market reactions are boring. Me too, et al.

That's why Sun's decision to open-source StarOffice (under the GPL, no less!) caught my attention and caused me to seek out an interview with Sun's Marco Boerries, the vice president and general manager of webtop and application software (and, perhaps more importantly, the founder of Star Division, the originating company behind StarOffice). While releasing StarOffice under the GPL, Sun will also continue to develop and offer StarPortal, the ASP-oriented version available online.

The plan is simple: to release a new version of StarOffice under the GPL by on October 13 after the code is cleaned up by Sun. Developers can take the whole thing or embed parts of StarOffice in their own applications. Also, Sun (in conjunction with the very hot Collab.net) is launching a Web site called OpenOffice.org, which will serve as the coordination point for the source code, the definition of XML-based file formats, and the definition of language-independent office APIs.

According to Boerries, a prime reason to release StarOffice under the GPL was to commoditize office applications, giving users and developers the power to walk away from the relatively expensive Microsoft Office. (We all whine about the Microsoft tax on new machines, but the real Microsoft tax occurs in the corporation, where companies are forced to pay high prices for Microsoft applications.) Despite StarOffice's presence in the Linux community, only 27.5 percent of StarOffice downloads come from Linux users; a whopping 70 percent comes from Windows users, and the rest comes from Solaris users.

By getting StarOffice to market in 2000 with extensive support for XML, Sun will beat Microsoft to the punch, as XML support in Microsoft's Office.Net isn't scheduled to arrive until 2002. "In 12 months, you'll hear Microsoft claim that they invented XML," Boerries says sardonically. "But we will all know that's not true."

The final part of the plan that makes the release such a sweet maneuver is that Sun won't be losing any revenues by releasing StarOffice under the GPL, as the product isn't currently generating any revenues for Sun.

Releasing StarOffice under the GPL was certainly a brilliant stroke for Sun: it empowers the Open Source community with a powerful tool that can be implemented in any number of ways, and it puts Microsoft on the defensive. It doesn't get any better than that.

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