McNealy defends free software model

McNealy defends free software model

Over the last few weeks, more than 250,000 people have downloaded the StarOffice productivity software suite Sun Microsystems has been giving away at its Web site, the company's chief executive said last week.

"People are just going to our Web site and downloading it like crazy," claimed Scott McNealy, Sun's chairman and CEO, in a speech via satellite from California, here at International Data Corp's European IT Forum.

Sun late last month purchased Star Division, the company behind the 65MB StarOffice software suite, to purposely offer it free to users over the Web.

The server vendor can afford to give it away, as long as it sells more servers, the "bricks" of Sun's business, noted McNealy.

"This is what is exciting - StarOffice and other free software," he added, as opposed to what he called the "hairball" Office suite from arch-rival Microsoft.

"After so many years of Microsoft doing the same to companies such as [database vendor] Oracle, Sun is now trying to suck the oxygen out of Microsoft," said Frank Gens, senior vice president for Internet research at IDC (see opinion on page 38).

Although enterprise users are unlikely to abandon Office for Sun's free offering, on the consumer side the move may lead to lower revenues for the software giant, Gens added.

McNealy also noted that despite the current $US10 billion investment run rate in Silicon Valley, he could not remember when he last heard of a startup betting its future on selling shrink-wrapped software.

"That was an interesting point of view, but I still think there will continue to be a market for packaged enterprise software," said Gens of McNealy's comment.

Microsoft, however, does not believe that giving away software for free is a viable business model, said Bernard Vergnes, chairman of Microsoft Europe.

Users want a reliable product, with an upgrade path and support services, something that free products will not be able to deliver, Vergnes claimed.

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