Exploring the Differences Between StarOffice and OpenOffice

Both StarOffice 9 and OpenOffice.org 3 will offer an office suite of tools compatible with Microsoft Office. Both are based on the same code base, and both will be native on the Mac, no longer requiring X11. Sunis Louis Suarez-Potts explained the key differences to TMO and what the customer should know before selecting one or the other.

The first thing we should know, according to Mr. Suarez-Potts, the Community Manager for OpenOffice.org at Sun Microsystems, Inc., is that both products are based on the same code base, slight differences are close to zero, and one can use each product on the Mac interchangeably. The key differences are in the branding, packaging and support.

"We at Sun are packaging StarOffice so that enterprise customers will have popular and useful extensions at hand, on the same CD, whereas for OpenOffice.org, the community has kept the download relatively lean, and if you want more extensions -- and who doesnit? -- you can download them from our repository.

"Most importantly, business users can obtain enterprise-level support from Sun (but not just Sun) for either StarOffice or OpenOffice.org in many countries and many languages. In addition to Sunis support, community support ranges from per-call support on "How to I do X?" to a complete corporate migration from MS Office to StarOffice. The community supports over 350 small companies located throughout the world that offer that kind of support."

Recently, Sun released StarOffice 9 beta, which includes a native version for Mac, and those betas do not come with support. When StarOffice 9 ships it will be identical to OpenOffice.org 3.0.

The Business Model: Compatibility and Continuity

Mr. Suarez-Potts explained whatis going on behind the scenes. "The business of supporting OpenOffice.org and, for that matter, StarOffice is in fact growing astonishingly fast around the world. The Mac element is pivotal, too, even in areas where you see few Macs, such as in India -- though that may be changing, too.

"But the Mac presence grants CIOs and others tasked with choosing the right software for their organizations the assurance and confidence that they can adopt the OpenDocument Format (our native format and the only published ISO standard file format for office documents) and have an office array that includes Macs, Linux, Solaris, Windows and so on.

"In short: OpenOffice.org and the Mac version in particular, suture the wounds inflicted by 20 years of divergence. The connecting thread is the file format and the understanding that what counts is creating, communicating, preserving files in a format that resists the fragility of monopoly and the reliance on any one company.... In fact, there is a a plugin that gives users the ability to read/write ODF, and with Open Office 3.0 and StarOffice 9.0, weill have native support of OOXML, which MS Office 2007 uses."

Details: Selecting the Right Product

TMO asked about other details that the customer should know about that would help them decide which package to use.

"StarOffice is pitched more to those who want the indemnification against suit by Microsoft: governments, OEMs and to those who want the ease of having at one go the application plus the most useful extensions," Mr. Suarez-Potts explained. "Itis also more for those who wish to buy, again at the outset, the support, services, training that Sun sells.

"But support, services, training are also available for OpenOffice.org, and many prefer it over StarOffice because it may be in a language that StarOffice is so far missing, or because an officiating body has insisted that the license of the application be open. StarOffice is built with open-source software (same code as OpenOffice.org) but the license of the actual application is closed.

To make modifications, one can easily download the corresponding OpenOffice.org code and work with the community."

In one sense, that puts OpenOffice.org a little further out the edge due to community contributions. StarOffice has the advantage of being the more thoroughly qualified product. Thatis very similar to the difference between the enterprise supported Red Hat Linux and the community work with Fedora.

On the other hand, if a user doesnit speak one of the dozen languages supported in StarOffice, OpenOffice.org supports over 100 languages.

The Macintosh Story

In earlier times, the community struggled with the coding, support and movement to the Mac OS X platform. Thatis why the early versions of OpenOffice were X11 only -- it was easier to port. However, for the last year or so, Sun has made a commitment to the Mac and has assigned engineers to the native port. Even so, Mr. Suarez-Potts pointed out, the project remains a profoundly community effort.

He also wanted readers to know that when StarOffice 9.0 ships, customers will be able to download it from Apple. Governments and businesses will be pleased to know that it is built with open source software but carries with it the assurances of a shrinkwrapped commodity. Also, it will work with MS Office (modern and archaic) and all ODF implementations, as well as a host of other formats.

Finally, Mr. Suarez-Potts pointed out that the openOffice.org team invites participation from everyone. One neednit be a developer, and the vast majority of contributors are not. Many just want to contribute time, expertise, skills, passion. As a result, the community has artists, translators, marketers, and so on, and theyire all working together, changing how an essential commodity is made and distributed ... and having a lot of fun.

Getting the Software

Sunis StarOffice Website has a link to the beta program for version 9 where a Mac native verson is available. OS X Tiger or later is required. Star Office 8, the latest release version, is available for Windows, Linux and Solaris, but not for the Mac.

OpenOffice.org 2.4.1 is the latest release version for Mac OS X and requires OS X Tiger or later. The second beta of OpenOffice.org 3 for Mac was released on March 19th.

When StarOffice 9 and OpenOffice.org 3 for the Mac are released, they will be essentially identical with respect to the code and functionality. The StarOffice 9 release is planned for early fall.