Sun Unveils An Office Suite For The Internet - InformationWeek

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Sun Unveils An Office Suite For The Internet

Sun Microsystems Inc. today unveiled a suite of personal productivity applications for thin-client devices that it will give away for free. Called StarPortal, the suite will be available through Web browsers and run on appliances like cell phones and set-top boxes. The suite, to be made available in October, is based on StarOffice software that Sun recently acquired with the purchase of software maker Star Divison. Sun says it will make the source code available to any vendor who follows some simple rules about compatibility.

If Sun has its way, StarPortal will become the dominant network-based source for office applications such as word processing, graphic presentations, and spreadsheets. All intelligence will reside on servers, which can eventually be systems beyond Sun Solaris, as vendors create their own solutions based on the source code. StarOffice already runs on Linux, Windows, Solaris, and OS/2 platforms, and Sun will add Java support to make the software even more portable. It also currently shares file formats with Microsoft applications like Exchange and PowerPoint.

Microsoft Office, which is currently the dominant corporate office suite, is not in Sun's cross hairs--yet. According to Ed Zander, Sun's president and chief operating officer, StarPortal isn't designed to replace existing applications running on fat clients. For now, it's a thin-client solution for users who don't need all the intelligence of a PC. However, Zander said StarPortal will eventually remove the need for mobile users to lug full-fledged notebook computers around. "Don't bet against bandwidth three years from now," says Zander. "Users will be able to carry a smart card around, plug into Jini-based devices, and conduct their presentations." Jini is Sun's software that is supposed to enable various devices, including cell phones and smart cards, to access the Internet.

An industry analyst thinks it's a good idea that Sun isn't going after companies with big investments in applications like Exchange. Still, Tony Iams, senior analyst for D. H. Brown Associates, said StarPortal has validity for some corporate customers. "For the class of users who don't need a full suite of applications beyond word processor and spreadsheet, this is the right approach," he says.

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