November 27, 2002 11:43 AM PST

Sun to give StarOffice Java flavor

Sun Microsystems is building a Java-based development kit for its StarOffice software to help corporate programmers customize desktop applications, a move that better pits it against Microsoft's dominant Office.

The software development kit will be available in the middle of next year as part of a minor upgrade to the business version of Sun's StarOffice 6.0, said Joerg Heilig, director of engineering for StarOffice at Sun.

Business customers routinely automate tasks such as generating charts in a spreadsheet by writing individual macros, or small programs called scripts. Macros in Microsoft's Office, for example, are written with Visual Basic for Applications, a language that is simple enough for many people to learn and that lets them share scripts with colleagues.

Microsoft Office product manager Simon Marks said customers can tailor Office to suit their needs. "The customer can use whatever development tools make sense, whether they want to use low-end, easy-to-use tools or much more complex languages," he said.

Sun's development kit for StarOffice, on the other hand, will be targeted specifically at business software developers who are already familiar with Java.

"Some companies want to be able to restrict (customization) because they want users to focus on their jobs and give them exactly the tools they need, not functionality that distracts them," Heilig said.

Sun's StarOffice division intends to make Java a scripting language for StarOffice, which will help customers take advantage of Java's security features. Java's security model works by limiting the areas of the computer the code can manipulate.

"The Java security model that is used in the browser is useful in an office suite as well," Heilig said. "When you include Java code for scripting purposes, you can restrict what Java can do at the operating system level."

In the next major version of StarOffice, Sun will introduce more fine-grained security control, giving system administrators the ability to restrict access to specific files and prevent changes to an application's user interface, Heilig said.

Although a licensing plan for Microsoft Office has met with customer resistance, Sun's desktop applications group faces an uphill battle against the software giant, which dominates the market for desktop applications. For customers who use macros extensively, Sun is seeking partners to help convert the Microsoft applications to StarOffice.

However, converting customized Microsoft Office applications to StarOffice is challenging because of internal differences in the software, said Gail Raynus, vice president at VistaPortal Software, which sells add-on tools for StarOffice. The Lexington, Mass.-based company is involved in a project to migrate a U.K.-based company with 2,500 employees to StarOffice.

A preview of the developers' kit is available at OpenOffice.org, Sun's open-source development effort for StarOffice.

Sun charges between $25 and $50 per user for StarOffice installations in offices with more than 150 employees and $1,750 for up to 25 employees in small businesses. The company began charging for StarOffice with version 6, which shipped earlier this year.

 

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