Monday Sep 10, 2007

The ecosystem and the StarOffice distro

People often ask what the difference is between and StarOffice. This question has been popping up more often after Google's announcement that it would distribute StarOffice for free as part of the Google Pack of desktop applications.

Here's my take on this, gathered from my colleagues on the OpenOffice and StarOffice teams, especially Louis Suarez-Potts, Community Manager. is a community Open Source project, released under the Lesser General Public License. Anyone can download either the binary or the source and redistribute them, at no charge, subject to the restrictions of the license. Sun is the biggest contributor to this project, but by no means the only one. Sun's contribution to this project is its gift to the world.

Like the Linux community, the community encourages others to develop their own distributions -- “distros” -- of the software by picking and choosing from its modules, and by adding their own modules. StarOffice is such a distro, created by taking the core, and adding various commercially-oriented modules, such as an advanced spellchecker licensed from a third party. The fact that Sun Microsystems created the StarOffice distro, and charges for it, does not mean that Sun considers StarOffice to be more “official” that, any more than Debian or Ubuntu is more “official” than the Linux kernel. StarOffice is just oriented toward a particular market segment.

There are other distros that target other markets. Sun created another distro called StarSuite that is oriented toward the Asian market. NeoOffice is an independent distro that has been ported to the Macintosh Aqua user interface. Novell created its own distro as well. The Google Pack StarOffice distro is a non-commercial version that is limited to Windows platforms.

The ecosystem encompasses all these distros, and also includes many indpendent vendors who provide support, training, consulting and other services for the various distros. Sun sells support and other services for, StarOffice and StarSuite, and cooperates with independent support vendors in various markets. We take pride in our major contribution to this ever-growing, open ecosystem.


Monday Aug 20, 2007

Office suites on Apple -- so many choices!

Suppose you buy a Mac (nice thought!) What will you use for an office productivity suite? I've been toying with the idea of getting a Mac, so my interest in this subject is more than academic. Also, since I've been doing StarOffice and services product management, I've got a professional interest, too. 

It turns out that there are lots of choices in this space, maybe the most on any platform. Let's see what's on offer:

Microsoft Office for the Mac -- probably the most popular choice. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into this product over the years, in spite of their rivalry with Apple. Back in the day when Apple had a huge share if the personal computer market, I've been told, Office for Mac was a major profit center for the Redmondians, and it's nice to see that they've kept it up. I've always been a big Excel fan, though I often find Word to be quite frustrating and unintuitive.

Apple iWork -- this one is starting to get interesting. It wasn't a complete choice until now, because it lacked a spreadsheet. Now it has one, and it's been getting good press. The price is right, too. It's always nice to use software built by the guys who built the hardware, just like Solaris on Sun. iWorks is the replacement for the obsolete AppleWorks.

NeoOffice -- I don't know too much about it, except that it is the brainchild of a couple of guys who used to work on, and started life as a port of OpenOffice to the Mac. Main claim to fame: it uses the wonderful Mac Aqua screen interface instead of X11 and also has the virtue of being an open source project. I know guys within Sun who use it and like it. for Mac -- helps pay my salary, so I'm not objective, but I use its twin StarOffice (on Windows XP) on a daily basis, and I've been very happy with it, much more than I thought I would be when I stopped using Microsoft Office. I haven't used on the Mac, but I think it's clear in general that StarOffice/ is the only professional-quality office suite out there that can rival Microsoft Office. If I get a Mac soon, OO.o will be my choice. The main drawback of on Mac is that it uses the X11 windowing system, instead of the native Mac Aqua, and there are folks for whom that is a major issue., Mac Aqua port -- yep, it's coming. There are engineers working on it full time, and the screen shots I've seen look amazing.  All the professional quality of combined with the elegance and clarity of Aqua.

Lots of choices! It's nice that Sun plays a big role in the diversity available on the Mac.

Sunday Aug 12, 2007 and linguistic diversity

We were talking with our son in Dubai on the weekend, and he pointed out how striking it is over there that English is the worls's lingua franca now. Dubai is a mashup of people from dozens of cultures, and they all communicate with each other in English. As my son pointed out, the British Empire started this trend, and the pervasive influence of media has only strengthened it.

I think it's clear that the computer is one medium that has accelerated this trend, through the Internet, but I think there is a happy counter-trend, too. Yes, the computer has solidified the place of English as the world's language of commerce, but it has also had the beneficial effect of preserving and encouraging the use of suppressed and waning languages. I like to think that is playing a useful role here. is one of the most globalized pieces of software in existence, with ongoing community-based localization projects in more than 80 languages. Take a look here at a list of the projects.

I was particularly impressed with OO.o's level of commitment to native language support when I read about the upcoming Conference (OOoCon 2007) in Barcelona. As the conference site notes, over the last seven years, the Barcelona-based OpenOffice Catalan localization team has distributed over 2 million copies of in Catalan. When you realize that Catalan was actively suppressed under the Franco regime, you can see the important role that our profession can play in the preservation and expansion of the world's cultural and linguistic diversity.


Tuesday Jul 31, 2007

StarOffice is invisible

I went to Borders the other night to see if there were any books on StarOffice or Not a single one, but dozens on MSFT Office. What's up with that? Are we suffering from "If you build it, they will come" syndrome? Then I went to the web site of Encore Software, the US retail distributor of StarOffice. I didn't see SO listed on their home page among the games they sell, so used their search facility. It came up with nothing. We have an excellent product that sells at a fraction of the price of its only real competitor -- maybe we should tell the world about it.

Monday Jul 23, 2007

A funny thing happened to

Great companies follow their customers, and sometimes those customers go in unexpected directions. When StarOffice split into two products, it was thought that would be the hobbyist-oriented, community-supported version,  and that StarOffice would be the professionally-supported version that would be demanded by large organizations, rather in the mode of RedHat and Fedora. Then a funny thing happened.

As Jonathan pointed out recently, is popping up everywhere, and it is being adopted by some very large organizations, particularly government agencies around the world. More and more, agencies are following mandates that the software they use be entirely open. However, these large customers don't want to run unsupported, and Sun, following its customers where they lead, is beginning to sign deals to support You read that right: customers can buy professional support from Sun. This takes nothing away from StarOffice -- there are still plenty of customers signing up for StarOffice support.  But it does show that sometimes whole market segments come out of nowhere, and astute companies must be ready to serve them. Sun is ready.

I was recently assigned to be the product manager for StarOffice and services, so this subject is very close to my heart. Anything you'd like to see happen in StarOffice and support? Let me know. Sun follows its customers.




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