StarOffice 8 review

Price when reviewed

StarOffice 8 is built on the same open-source code base as OpenOffice 2 and, with the two offering near-identical features, you might wonder why you should pay for something you could otherwise download for free.

When developing a new version of StarOffice, Sun takes a ‘snapshot’ of the OpenOffice code, and bolts on additional features that can’t be given away. Often these are licensed from third-party manufacturers, such as font foundries, and in the past these added extras included the Adabas database component, which was absent from OpenOffice 1 and 1.1.

Sun therefore positions its product to appeal to organisations and consumers who are after a multiplatform alternative to Microsoft Office, as distinct from OpenOffice, which it sees as a product for independent developers, the open-source community and users of free software.

To this end, StarOffice includes more extensive bought-in spellcheckers and mail-merge features, fonts that are metrically equivalent to those found in Windows for use on other platforms (particularly useful since Microsoft stopped offering free downloads of its core fonts a few years ago, as these had always been a boon for Linux users), migration tools for documents and macros, and a wider range of document templates and import filters for Asian-language files.

This is on top of the features that go beyond the budgets of the OpenOffice developers, such as CD-based product updates, warranties and round-the-clock support. Fortunately, many of the tech-support features are mirrored by the active OpenOffice user base, to the extent that Sun’s formalised offering is an unjustifiable extravagance for most home users. Ad-hoc add-ons such as this aren’t just for OpenOffice users, though, as Sun itself incorporates community-developed features into its commercial product, such as the Flash export options in Impress.

The deciding factor for high-end users will be how they intend to apply their existing macros to their latest installation. StarOffice ships with a Macro Migration Wizard that relies on an API layer absent from OpenOffice, in which translated macros may fail to run. This can be fixed through the addition of Sun’s special Migration Tools licence for OpenOffice, which costs money and defeats the purpose of going open source.

If your company relies on a sophisticated roll-out backbone, and your clients demand access to SharePoint servers, then it’s Microsoft Office all the way. If, on the other hand, you want a lighter, cheaper option that offers 90 per cent of Microsoft’s features and adds in an extra 20 per cent of its own, there are many good reasons to buck the industry trend here and now.

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