StarOffice 8: Sun's Office Suite Takes on Microsoft

Friday Apr 29th 2005 by Adam Stone
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Scheduled to debut in July, Version 8 offers a rock-bottom price and improved capability with MS Office.

Sun's product, StarOffice, has not yet stolen significant market share from Microsoft Office, but if its latest beta release (which we look at here), is any indication, Sun's taking its push into the market seriously.

The new version, StarOffice 8 Beta, has been designed with a focus on integrating better with Microsoft Office. It offers easier import and export functions, new toolbars that are easier to use and a new mail-merge wizard, among other tools.

Now, let's be realistic: Even the best of tweaks won't shake Microsoft from its dominant position, which analysts estimate accounts for some 90 percent of the market for office suites. But all these improvements, taken together, should at least give StarOffice a boost against its Goliath-like competitor.

Already the leading office productivity suite on Linux and the Solaris operating systems, as well as the leading alternative office suite to Windows, StarOffice delivers a range of tools based on the open source OpenOffice.org office suite first introduced to the open source community by Sun in 2000.

StarOffice includes word processing and spreadsheet tools, presentation functions, drawing tools and database capabilities. It can also export to PDF and to the Macromedia Flash format. It also includes a software development kit, a macro recorder, and support for complex text layouts.

Price continues to be a major factor in favor of StarOffice, which costs about $80 for the small office edition, as compared to Microsoft Office, which retails for about $500. The Sun product also offers a far greater range of cross-platform support, whereas Office 2003 runs only on Windows 2000 and XP, StarOffice supports Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, and XP, as well as Linux and Solaris.

What's New in Version 8
By far the most significant enhancement is the application's interoperability with Microsoft Office. Sun has acknowledged this as a shortcoming in prior versions, and it's a big one, since poor interoperability can hinder the efforts of people looking to transition away from the Microsoft product.

The new version addresses the issue in a number of ways. First, Sun says it has revised and improved upon its existing import and export filters for handling all Microsoft Office documents. Further, it now should be easier than ever to import password-protected Microsoft Word and Excel documents. In addition, StarOffice now includes all custom animation effects and slide transitions from Microsoft PowerPoint.

While StarOffice 8 Beta has its own XML-based file format, every StarOffice application that has a Microsoft Office equivalent can read and write the MS Office file formats seamlessly. Text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, charts and so forth can all be moved easily from Office to StarOffice. The same holds true for the XML file format of Word and Excel, for which StarOffice 8 now provides import and export filters.

Sun has cleaned up StarOffice's toolbars, too. While still highly functional, the revised toolbars are more usable, displaying only default tools that have been carefully selected, thus cutting down on the clutter.

An improved mail merge wizard promises to make it easier to send form letters, whether in printed form or by e-mail.

The bottom line: StarOffice 8 Beta is a good, solid choice for small business owners on a budget who need access to an effective productivity package. It has all the tools you will need, nicely integrated in an easy-to-use form.

Technical Info
These are the requirements for StarOffice/StarSuite 8:

Solaris: SPARC & x86 Platform Edition

  • Solaris 8 OS or higher. Solaris 9 is recommended
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 400 MB available hard disk space
  • X-Server with 800 x 600 or higher resolution with 256 colors
  • Gnome 2.0 or higher required for support of assentive technology tools
Linux:
  • Linux kernel version 2.2.13 or higher glibc2 version 2.2.0 or higher
  • Pentium compatible PC
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 350 MB available hard disk space
  • X-Server with 800 x 600 or higher resolution with 256 colors
Windows:
  • Windows 98, ME, 2000 (Service Pack 2 or higher), or XP (Please note the discontinuation of support of Windows NT)
  • Pentium compatible PC
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 250 MB available hard disk space
  • 800 x 600 or higher resolution graphic device with 256 colors

Note: Sun decided to end the StarOffice 8 Beta Program on April 7th, 2005. Version 8 will officially be available in July, at which point a free, 90-day evaluation version will be available to potential customers.

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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