Sun updates its Office challenger

Sun updates its Office challenger

Why pay for software when you can get it for free? Sun Microsystems is hoping that you'll buy the logic, at least, and choose to download its StarOffice suite for free instead of paying for Microsoft Office.

On Tuesday, Sun releases StarOffice 5.2, its first upgrade since Sun acquired the office suite with its purchase of Star Division last August and began distributing the software free online. The initial release, version 5.1, was downloaded more than 1.5 million times, according to figures on Sun's Web site.

StarOffice 5.2 includes Writer, a word processing program; Calc, a spreadsheet; Impress, a presentation program; Base, a database application; Draw, a graphics program; and Schedule, a calendar. The suite also includes StarOffice Mail, a communications tool that lets you retain StarOffice Writer functions when sending e-mail; and StarOffice Discussion, a newsgroup application.

StarOffice is compatible with Windows 2000, NT, 98, and 95; Linux; and Solaris.

It can run on PCs, UNIX workstations, servers, or internal local area networks.

During April, Sun released a beta version of StarOffice 5.2 on its Web site; feedback from that release was used for improvements in this final release version. Version 5.2 is more compatible with Microsoft Office file formats, which Sun claims improves both import and export between the office suites.

StarOffice Writer also has a new business card template, more column formatting options, and expanded AutoCorrect and AutoCompletion functions. Impress has a new player for software presentations, so you can make your presentations on a PC by installing only the player, not the entire StarOffice suite.

StarOffice 5.2 offers many similarities to Microsoft Office, but the two have key differences. Noteworthy is StarOffice's integration: rather than opening each application, you open the entire suite. StarOffice creates a desktop for you, which contains everything you have stored on your PC's desktop. You can access each of StarOffice's individual applications from this central starting point.

Using StarOffice takes some adjustment for a Microsoft user, but assimilating is easy enough once you're inside the individual applications. In a quick test of the office suite, the AutoCorrect function in Writer proved to be helpful at times, and annoying at times -- just as it is in Microsoft Office. The AutoCompletion feature, which suggests words far too frequently for my taste, offers suggestions that weren't as helpful as they were meant to be.

Importing a Microsoft Word 2000 file into StarOffice Writer worked fine. The document suffered no formatting losses. Importing a StarOffice Writer document into Word wasn't nearly as successful. I tried with two documents, and both were unreadable when opened in Word.

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