Users beginning to consider StarOffice

End-user#unrest over#Microsoft's enterprise licensing#plan#may prompt some companies to move from the Microsoft Office suite to rival Sun Microsystems' personal productivity suite, StarOffice, according to Gartner.

          End-user unrest over Microsoft's enterprise licensing plan may prompt some companies to move from the Microsoft Office suite to rival Sun Microsystems' personal productivity suite, StarOffice, according to Gartner.

          Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner estimates that StarOffice has a better-than-even chance of taking 10% of the office productivity suite market at Microsoft's expense by the end of 2004.

          Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, says some firms are beginning to weigh the cost and licensing terms of Microsoft's Office against StarOffice's improving compatibility with Microsoft file formats and its expected lower pricing.

          Sun intends to begin charging for StarOffice when Version 6.0 is released by the end of next month, but it will couple that with support services. Pricing hasn't been announced, but a Sun official says Gartner's estimate of $US25 to $US75 per user, depending on volume, is in the ballpark. The move is a strategic one for Sun, which had previously made StarOffice available for free but with minimal support.

          Microsoft declines to disclose its enterprise volume licence pricing.

          "StarOffice has a chance, based on [improved] compatibility, some mind share and Microsoft missteps," says Silver. But concerns about migration costs, end-user training and converting documents could deter companies, he says.

          Gartner's prediction of a potential 10% market share for StarOffice may seem small, but it's likely the boldest prediction to date of a product with the potential to dent Microsoft's desktop market share. Still, the hurdles for reaching that market could be high.

          David Morris, a senior vice president of e-business solutions at AmeriCredit in Fort Worth, Texas, is among those who have downloaded StarOffice for a tryout. He called it "a pretty good product" but says he's not about to roll it out to his 6000 users.

          The training and infrastructure costs associated with moving end users to a new productivity suite pose too big a barrier, says Morris. "We don't think there are viable alternatives [to Office]," he says.

          But another end user attending the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo disagreed. Mike Thiele, associate director of corporate IT infrastructure at Gilead Sciences, a biopharmaceutical firm in Foster City, California, said his company is looking at alternatives to Office, partly because it doesn't want to rely on one vendor.

          StarOffice has about 10 million users worldwide. Its largest enterprise user is Sun, at 39,000 seats, followed by the US Department of Defence, with 15,000 users, according to Tony Siress, a senior director of marketing at Sun. The change to a pricing model is intended to let users know that StarOffice is "a committed, sustainable offering," he said.

          Microsoft's new enterprise licensing plan, announced last year, drew complaints from many firms, which said it would raise their costs.

          Gordon Pope, manager of network computing at the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority in Vancouver, says those licensing changes have raised concerns. "Would I look to find alternatives to Microsoft? Absolutely," says Pope. "The concern that we have is [that] the weirdness of the licensing is costing us a lot of money every couple of years."

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