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Sun Updates StarOffice 9 For Microsoft Office, Macintosh

With its increased compatibility, StarOffice represents a low-cost alternative for companies looking to save on their IT budgets.

Sun Microsystems on Monday launched StarOffice 9 with new versions of its word processor, spreadsheet, database, and presentation software.

Version 9 will run on the Apple Mac OS X operating system as well as Microsoft Windows machines. The desktop package also includes an enhanced drawing program.

StarOffice 9 is open source code supported by Sun and available to be downloaded for $34.95 from Sun's download site. Its code is identical to OpenOffice 3 from the open source project, where it is available for free download. Enterprises also may order StarOffice with technical support from Sun at volume pricing of $25 per user. The pricing represents an annual subscription rate.

StarOffice 9 boasts use of the Open Document Format, an early international document standard, and improved support for Microsoft Office document formats, including its OOXML files, Access 2007 .accdb files, and improved support for VBA macros used in the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. StarOffice also supports Adobe's PDF files.

"StarOffice can read just about any file from any platform," boasted Iyer Venkatesan, senior product manager.

Small incompatibilities with the dominant Microsoft Office suite have dogged the open source alternative for much of its existence, and version 9 is meant to resolve as many of them as possible. With its increased compatibility with Office, StarOffice represents a low-cost alternative for companies looking to save on their IT budgets, and Sun Services consultants have migration tools that will ease the conversion, Venkatesan said.

StarOffice and Open Office are Microsoft's most successful competitors as desktop productivity applications, although market estimates of their share hovers around a modest 5% of Internet users, according to ClickStream Technologies, which surveyed 2,400 users of home PCs over the past six months.

The suite's spreadsheet, Calc, has been expanded from 256 columns to 1,024. Native table support has been added to Impress presentation graphics, making it easier to display data sets in a slide presentation. Impress also has been given a presenter's preview screen, where notes to slides can be viewed with a slide or a view of the thumbnail slides can be viewed in sequence, according to Venkatesan.

"You have a much stronger handle on preparing a presentation. You can toggle back and forth" between individual slides and an overall view, he said in an interview.

The latest version of the suite includes the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client and Lightning extension as a calendar application.

Users of StarOffice get Sun's guarantee of indemnification against lawsuits over patent or copyright infringement.

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