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Google To Distribute Free StarOffice

In its latest poke in Redmond's eye, Google has added Sun's StarOffice 8 to its Google Pack of free software

We may all yet live to see Google drop the pretense and try taking on Microsoft Office head-on.

In its latest poke in Redmond's eye, Google has added Sun's StarOffice 8 to its Google Pack of free software - a motley collection of downloadable stuff like Google Earth, Norton Security Scan, the Google Desktop, Firefox, Google Talk, the Adobe Reader, RealPlayer and Skype - at a time when Office 2007 deployment decisions are being made.

The commercial version of the open source OpenOffice, StarOffice normally sells for $70 standalone, but Google's version is free.

StarOffice is a departure from the hosted, web-based, collaborative-minded beta productivity applications Google's been assembling under its Docs & Spreadsheets banner.

StarOffice is the classically used desktop suite with word processing, spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation modules that Sun has been pushing for years as an alternative to Office. And it now sees it as an evangelist for the contra-Microsoft OpenDocument Format (ODF) (a fact that's probably key to whatever's going on here).

Speculation has StarOffice ultimately being synch'd up to partake of the online facilities of Docs & Spreadsheets, perhaps using the beta Google Gears software as the conduit. Sun tried for years to come up with an online version of StarOffice that worked and never could manage it.

On its own, StarOffice has yet to deprive Office of significant market share. It has also not generated much revenue. Aside from what Sun sells on its own, the stuff has gone through Amazon and retail outlets like Best Buy and CompUSA.

However, it appears that Sun may wind up offering paid support for the Google code though it won't to begin with. Observers always said Sun needed a rabbi to make StarOffice a contender.

Google has previously said it has no financial arrangement with the third-party suppliers of the Google Pack software - a policy it appears to have changed for Sun, at according to what Sun told the Wall Street Journal.

Google Pack software is only for Windows XP and Vista, a fact that leaves the Linux contingent out and scratching its collective head over why Google, open source aficionado that it is, didn't go with OpenOffice, an open source favorite.

Microsoft Watch editor Joe Wilcox found it an ominous sign. He told BetaNews, "Where Microsoft wins is distribution of the commercial Sun software rather than its open source software. Open source advocates should consider the Google-Sun deal as a foreboding occurrence."

Maybe he's prescient. Maybe OpenOffice ultimately disappears.

StarOffice is OpenOffice with proprietary widgetry like a spellchecker and thesaurus, clip-art, fonts and templates, enhancements for optimizing on Vista and, perhaps notably, some Office migration tools. It has now added Google Search.

StarOffice is compatible with only old versions of Office, the bulk of Microsoft's installed based. It can't read the new Office 2007 Open XML formats that the ODF is trying to stop from getting standardized by ISO. It can however save documents in PDF.

The Google version is integrated with Google Search and the Google Desktop.

A couple of years ago Google and Sun made some noises about making OpenOffice more available then went silent until this not-ballyhooed move.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has recently committed to experimenting with a free ad-supported version of Works, the junior version of Office.

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