Sun Microsystems today confirmed plans to make public the source code of its StarOffice suite under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL).
Opening the source code of StarOffice, which competes with Microsoft's Office programs, would give the fledgling productivity suite a boost by allowing software developers besides Sun to expand its functionality.
Sun plans to post open source code for StarOffice 6.0, the next-generation version of the suite, at www.openoffice.org by the middle of October.
OpenOffice.org will be formed and managed by Collab.Net and will serve as the co-ordination point for the source code, the definition of XML-based file formats, and the definition of language-independent office application programming interfaces (APIs).
Marco Boerries, vice president and general manager of webtop and application software at Sun, said: "Sun's open sourcing of StarOffice is the single largest open source software contribution in GPL history, and adds a key application suite to the open source portfolio. This announcement will leverage StarOffice's role as the leading productivity suite for multiple platforms."
Tim O'Reilly, founder and chief executive at O'Reilly and Associates, said the availability of StarOffice under the GPL will give Linux a boost on the desktop.
Jon Collins, a senior analyst at Bloor Research, said the move made sense because in the future, StarOffice would be distributed through application service providers (ASPs), who may want to adapt and modify the software.
"The future of StarOffice is integration with platforms other than the PC and delivery by ASPs," said Collins, who added that the main question was whether enough open source developers will be attracted to working on the suite.
He said that despite generating a lot of interest, the suite has not really taken off as a replacement for Microsoft Office because there is no clear benefit in migration for people who have already purchased Microsoft's software.
He added that StarOffice was targeted at people who didn't want to spend money - principally consumers - and that there would be a configuration overhead and learning curve if it were adopted by businesses.
The suite, which was developed by Marco Boerries and his Star Division and later bought by Sun for $74m in stock, has been gaining in popularity recently.
According to figures from Sun, approximately 15 million copies of StarOffice have been distributed over the past 10 months, three million of which were downloaded from Sun's website. The other 12 million copies were distributed through Linux and PC vendors.
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