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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Writer 638C - page 2

Testify, Brother

  • October 16, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

After last week's review of StarOffice 6.0 beta, a few people asked me how it compared to OpenOffice. There seems to be the assumption that there is a divergence between the two office suite applications. I am telling you now, there is hardly any difference in performance or interface between OpenOffice and its parent-child StarOffice. Certainly not in the Writer component of each suite, which is what I focused on for the purposes of this review.

Newcomers to the world of open source software may be confused--why exactly are there two seemingly identical versions of the same office suite out there? For these folks, I wanted to take a step back and explain what's going on. All you grizzled veterans can skip to the next section, where I highlight the real differences between StarOffice and OpenOffice.

In the beginning, there was StarOffice. StarOffice began with a student, 16-year-old Marco B�rries, who founded Star Division in 1985. B�rries started his fledgling software development company with the goal of creating an effective, fast, and cheap word processing program. Starting with StarWriter, a DOS-based application, Star Division gained a lot of industry acclaim in a short amount of time.

By 1995, Star Division had added much more functionality to its flagship products. Not only StarWriter, but StarCalc, StarBase, and StarDraw were being offered to the public, both separately and as part of the new StarOffice product. While Microsoft Office began to dominate the North American market, European markets embraced StarOffice, due to its lower retail price, critical acclaim, and smaller footprint.

A year later, StarOffice 3.1 became the first version of the application adapted for use on Linux.

For the next three years, StarOffice sailed happily along, building a growing and devoted following on the Linux platform. Interestingly enough, it would be the success of StarOffice on Linux and Solaris that would attract the likes of Sun Microsystems to purchase Star Division in 1999. Not too long after this acquisition, StarOffice 5.2 was released. This would be the last completely closed-source version of this office suite.

OpenOffice was born of the source code from StarOffice 5.2 just over a year ago, on October 13, 2000, when Sun formed OpenOffice.org. The source code, written in C++, is now a part of one of the largest open source projects ever conceived. The work has been divided into several teams, with each team's manager guiding the direction of newly submitted code. Ultimately, anyone can take the open source and make anything out of it--including another office suite, if they wanted.

This is how StarOffice is the parent of OpenOffice. But StarOffice is also the child of OpenOffice as well. Since the inception of OpenOffice.org, Sun has reincorporating the efforts made by the OpenOffice teams into their own development of StarOffice 6.0. With the release of StarOffice 6.0, the first fruits of the OpenOffice project have been harvested.

If this sounds familiar, you're right. This process is similar to the Mozilla/Netscape relationship. There are some crucial differences, however. For instance, right from the get-go Sun made it very clear that while all developers were welcome to participate in the OpenOffice project, it would be they that guided the direction of the overall goals. In fact, most of the team managers in OpenOffice are employees of Sun. This differs from the potluck management style of the early Mozilla project, where everything went willy-nilly because of a lack of direction. Thankfully, Mozilla has regained its sense of purpose and is producing excellent open-source applications, not just the Netscape browser.

Parent, then child. This is the nature of the StarOffice-OpenOffice relationship. Of course, looking at the applications together might make you think they are actually twins.

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