Sun Microsystems is gearing up to release the first public beta of the next version of StarOffice, hoping to boost the level of competition in the market for desktop productivity software.
The beta version of StarOffice 6.1 will be available for download from Sun's Web site by the middle of next week and adds features designed to make it more appealing to large businesses, Sun's product line manager for StarOffice, Iyer Venkatesan, said.
The final version of the product was expected to ship in September or October, he said.
"The main focus with 6.1 is the enterprise. We made it ready for enterprise deployment," Venkatesan said.
The company faces some healthy competition.
Corel said that it planned to ship the next version of its productivity suite, WordPerfect Office 11, in late April. And market leader Microsoft is widely expected to release the final public beta of Office 2003, an upgrade to its own desktop productivity suite, early next week.
The StarOffice beta would be available for Sun Solaris, Linux and versions of Windows from Windows 98 onwards, Venkatesan said.
Sun hoped to sign up about 50,000 users for the beta trial, and would screen them to ensure an even mix of platforms, languages and types of user are represented, he said. About 10,000 users hadalready signed up for the test.
The main enhancements in 6.1 include management tools that make it easier for businesses to deploy and configure the suite across a large number of systems.
Sun also made the product compatible with tools used by people with disabilities, such as screen magnifiers and text-to-speech engines, which is a requirement for products to be used by the US government, Venkatesan said.
The beta would be available next week in six European languages - English, German, Spanish, Swedish, French and Italian - as well as in Japanese, Korean and Simplified and Traditional Chinese, he said.
With version 6.1, Sun included a handful of technologies that would allow it to begin translating the product into more "complex languages" such as Hindi, Hebrew and Arabic, Venkatesan said.
He acknowledged the level of competition posed by Microsoft but said StarOffice had several selling points. It was compatible with Microsoft Office file formats, its user interface was similar to that of Office making the learning process easy and Sun offered more flexible licensing terms than Microsoft.
For example, users could buy one license for the product and then install it on up to five machines that they own, such as a desktop at work and a laptop at home, Venkatesan said.
Sun also hopes the price tag will be a big lure. StarOffice sells at retail for $75.95 and is available to enterprises from $60 per user for 25 seats.
The retail price for the professional edition of Office XP is $579.99, according to Microsoft's Web site, with discounts available for volume purchases.