Sun's Microsoft Office workalike, formerly $70, suddenly materializes in the Google Pack download, writes Executive Editor Eric Knorr
Two years ago Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and Scott McNealy, still CEO of Sun at the time, made a joint announcement that was notable for its lack of content. The only real substance: Sun would bundle Google Toolbar with Sun's Java Runtime Environment.
But Schmidt did drop one hint of more to come: "We will work to make the distribution of [OpenOffice] become broader. We are not announcing specifics."
It took a while, but if you check the Google Pack page –- where Google rolls together a motley group of free software into a big download –- you’ll now find StarOffice on the list. This is notable for a couple of reasons. First, although StarOffice and its open-source cousin OpenOffice share the same code base, StarOffice has added features -– a spell-checker and thesaurus plus some Windows fonts and clip art. And until now, StarOffice sold for $70.
In the past few people took Star/OpenOffice seriously. Those who still deal with the vagaries of, say, Mac Word documents opened in Windows shudder at the idea of adding file interoperability uncertainties with third-party software. And neither StarOffice nor OpenOffice support Office 2007 file formats.
But do they need to? Just over the weekend, a non-technical friend complained to me that Office 2007 hid all the commands he used and exposed all the commands he didn't use. Such lamentations depend on how you use the product, but the point is that Office 2007's UI is a major departure from earlier versions, and those who despise learning curves may seek out an alternative that more closely resembles previous Office versions.
Microsoft may be in a tougher spot than it's ever been -- Vista sluggishness in sales and performance, browser-based workalikes of its desktop apps, reports of developers moving away from Windows. And as far as anyone can determine, the company does not yet have a coherent response to Google Apps. The sudden appearance of StarOffice as a free download is not a momentous event. But it's one more chink in Microsoft's corroding armor.