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French Version

Interface : A 'Star' to rival MS Office

Microsoft is planning a next-generation of its office applications, with an eye on a fast-evolving competitor, StarOffice.

JORDAN (Star) - Microsoft is planning a next-generation of its office applications, with an eye on a fast-evolving competitor, StarOffice. If you haven't heard or, see it; StarOffice is a good suite of office applications from Sun which 'rivals' Microsoft Office. So far, its been free, which has created parallel with Linux among users seeking the 'other choice'. Although the new version will no longer be free, it'll still be very cheap. With version 6.0, Sun is planning to lure users based on lower purchasing and licensing costs, while delivering similar capabilities as MS Office.
The new StarOffice 6.0, to be launched later this month, will retail for $75.95 per copy, with volume discounts of $50 for more than 150 users and $25 for more than 10,000 users. What's more, the Star desktop interface has, surprisingly, decent compatibility with files created in Microsoft's own Office products, including complex Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents!

Reviewers of final test versions are basically saying that Star Office 6.0 is "simply robust, full-featured, and intuitive to use." So, what is Microsoft doing in response? For one thing, Microsoft doesn't seem to be too worried as it plans to increase the costs of MS Office ownership for organizations (multi-license customers). On the other hand, Microsoft is promising some attractive improvements for Office. Microsoft is planning an optional subscription version tied to Web services based on Extensible Markup Language (XML). Those services, which could include some of the online calendaring and collaboration features envisioned for .Net My Services.

.Net My Services, announced more than a year ago, was originally envisioned as a "digital safe-deposit box" for hosting and delivering personal information while providing an array of services, ranging from commerce to communications, in partnership with Web retailers.
Microsoft had hoped that consumers would pay fees that would cover the bulk of the expense to run these one-stop services. Instead, the plan has been the source of continual confusion among potential customers.
Other changes include Outlook's calendaring, contact and e-mail application which will get a makeover with emphasis on delivering information anytime, anywhere. Microsoft also plans to introduce tools for accessing Outlook files from multiple devices. The company plans to beef up Office's support for SharePoint Team Services, its online collaboration service. Besides introducing tools for capturing handwritten notes, Microsoft wants to make finding handwritten notes in Word documents easier, for example. People would eventually be able to search those notes, too, similar to how they can search for typewritten text today. As part of Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" initiative, Office will get improved security and privacy features. So, the important question is whether StarOffice really represents a threat to the mighty Microsoft Office?

According to Sun, StarOffice is being used by millions in the United States and Europe, and the new version 6.0 has been tested and used by more than 1.8 million users in trials at businesses. We've all seen how Microsoft stamped out competition from Lotus, WordPerfect and Corel in the office suite market. Why is Sun going to be any different? Software buyers say it's because StarOffice is actually quite good, because it's been free so far and because Sun is a trusted and strong name in the IT industry.

The fact that Microsoft will implement a new approach to licensing, which requires enterprises to purchase a maintenance agreement by July 2002 or pay full price for future upgrades, will help StarOffice's popularity Gartner Dataquest anticipates that StarOffice may capture 10 percent of the market for office suites by 2004. Small, you may think, but quite substantial if you consider how many years Microsoft Office has been around and how much money Microsoft spends on marketing. For now, Sun will try to gain some ground in the English-language markets with StarOffice, because it is not a valid option for multi-lingual users like us. One day though, soon, StarOffice will be Arabized. That's when things will surely get very interesting !

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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