Sun Goes Open Source With Office Software

Onetime critics applaud as vendor releases StarOffice under GNU license

Monterey, Calif.

Sun Microsystems Inc. has decided to release the source code for its StarOffice office productivity suite under the GNU General Public License (GPL). The announcement received much attention at the O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention here on Wednesday, with many open-source advocates applauding the move.

Sun is positioning StarOffice as a replacement for Microsoft Office 2000. StarOffice, which runs on Windows, Linux and Solaris, joins other open-source suites, including Durham, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc.'s Gnome Office.

Sun has released other products, such as its Java programming language, under the Sun Community Source License, a licensing model that has been met with much criticism from the open-source community. In contrast, GPL is used by open-source projects such as Linux.

Linuxlike Impact Sought

"We wanted to have the same impact on office suites that Linux has had on operating systems, and the only way to do that is the GPL," explained Marco Boerries, Sun's vice president and general manager of Web-top and application software. Boerries joined Sun last year when it acquired Star Division Inc., which he founded.

"It's wonderful," said open-source advocate Eric Raymond, who has been a vocal critic of the Sun Community Source License. "They have finally figured out that they screwed up before [with Java]."

In late summer or early fall, Sun will release a Web-based version of StarOffice called StarPortal. The product will be free, but Boerries said the company hasn't yet decided whether it will release the source code. Service providers may host it and charge a fee, or enterprises can install it free on their own servers, said Boerries. StarPortal will run on Solaris, Windows 2000 and Linux.

Microsoft Corp. executives have discussed plans to launch a Web-based version of Office called but haven't released shipping dates or other information.

"StarOffice being open source makes a great difference [because] an attempt could be made to port it to run on other platforms," said Rich Smrcina, a systems software specialist at Milwaukee-based Grede Foundries Inc., a $600 million producer of metal castings. "Being free probably doesn't make so much of a difference; a nominal charge would be acceptable."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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