In line with its policy of introducing features to its various offerings and then letting people discover them on their own, Google has concluded an agreement with Sun Microsystems to include StarOffice 8 — Sun’s Productivity Suite — with the Google Pack offered by the search mavens as a “one stop solution” to basic computing needs.

Other programs in Google Pack include Google Toolbar, Spyware Doctor, Google Photos Screensaver, Skype, Norton Security Scan, Google Desktop, Google Talk, RealPlayer, Google Earth, Firefox with Google Toolbar, Picasa and Adobe Reader. The programs can be downloaded singly or as the full “pack,” and Google provides an updater to manage them. The updater is required to download from the Google site, but can be disabled or un-installed after downloading if desired. In the case of StarOffice there’s an integral updater accessible through the “Options” menu, so the Google Updater is superfluous.

StarOffice, based on the OpenOffice platform but containing code from Sun as well, is widely considered to be the leading MS Office competitor at the present time. Periodically Sun — which donated the original StarOffice code to the OpenOffice community — takes a “snapshot” of the code base, integrates proprietary and third-party code modules, and markets the package commercially at a nominal price. This is the first free offering of StarOffice 8 that I know of, although v. 5.2 has been available for free download since shortly after Sun acquired StarDivision.

According to WikiPedia, the company and the copyright and trademark of StarOffice were acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999 for US$73.5 million. Sun was seeking to compete with Microsoft Office, and also wanted to save money on licenses for Microsoft Office and Windows:

The number one reason why Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 was because, at the time, Sun had something approaching forty-two thousand employees. Pretty much every one of them had to have both a Unix workstation and a Windows laptop. And it was cheaper to go buy a company that could make a Solaris and Linux desktop productivity suite than it was to buy forty-two thousand licenses from Microsoft. (Simon Phipps, Sun, LUGradio podcast)

Again according to WikiPedia, the “advantages” of SunOffice over OpenOffice (at least they’re differences, if not necessarily advantages) include:

  • Several font metric compatible Unicode TrueType fonts containing bitmap representations for better appearance at smaller font sizes
  • 12 Western fonts (including Andale Sans, Arial Narrow, Arial Black, Broadway, Garamond, Imprint MT Shadow, Kidprint, Palace Script, Sheffield) and 7 Asian language fonts (including support for the Hong Kong Supplementary character set)
  • Adabas D database
  • StarOffice-only templates and sample documents
  • A large clip art gallery
  • Sorting functionality for Asian versions
  • File filters for additional older wordprocessing formats (including EBCDIC)
  • A different spell checker (note that does include a spell checker as well) and thesaurus
  • StarOffice Configuration Manager
  • Macro Converter for converting Microsoft Office VBA-macros to StarBasic

Other differences include: StarOffice only supports 10 languages (compared to over 25 for, and StarOffice is only available for the Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating systems (while is available for 8 operating systems).

Given that StarOffice does offer advantages in terms of usability over OpenOffice, it could be worth considering if you want to replace Micro$oft Office or if you’re buying a new PC and don’t want to pay the exorbitant cost of installing it to begin with. Since MS Office 2007 is currently US $249.99 at TigerDirect (OEM version), an alternative suite that’s compatible with common office documents such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and so forth, could be a useful option to consider.

And yes, I know there are those of you who will panic again about Google getting its hooks into you, but think about this. First of all, you don’t know how far Micro$oft’s into your business, because you can’t access its code to find out. At least Google tells you it’s collecting information. And second — when Google rules the world, you’ll be sorry for all those remarks. You have been warned

[tags]productivity, openoffice, staroffice, microsoft office, google pack[/tags]