Like a lot of Google announcements involving software, it
happened very quietly.
Sometime during the past few days (some news reports say
over the weekend), the Internet giant began offering
Sun’s StarOffice (normally $70) for free with its Google
Pack software bundle, giving users the chance to create
documents with something other than Microsoft Office
applications while also insulating them from any potential
legal tangles that could encumber the purely open-source Open
Office suite of productivity tools.
Until now, the most common problem cited with the Web-based
Google Docs & Spreadsheets is that it doesn’t offer
the rich features available on a Microsoft Word or Excel class
of desktop application.
To this point, Google has never been overly concerned with
what tools people use to author documents because Google
Apps’ primary advantage rests in its collaboration
potential. “We’ve focused a lot of attention on
letting people compose their documents any way they
want,” Rajen Sheth, the product lead for Google Apps,
told CIO in a phone briefing. “What we’re
trying to do is build applications that make it easier for
people to collaborate and use the fact it’s on the Web
and connected to do so.”
By offering StarOffice, however, Google now gives its users
a more feature-rich—while still free—option for
authoring documents before they import them (or even copy and
paste) into Google Docs & Spreadsheets.
“The Sun software shores up Google’s
productivity software until they can really expand the
capability of their own software and allow it to be run
offline,” says Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.
“It’s a short- to medium-term solution,” he
adds. “Making Google Apps more robust is not an overnight
thing, but Google already has and will add additional features
This move builds on the initial 2005 agreement between Sun and Google, which added the
Google toolbar to some Sun products. The extent of the deal,
however, was unclear at the time, though it left the door
open for further collaboration on projects such as Open
Office. The difference between Sun Office and Open Office is
rather small. Each has a different spellchecker, and Sun
Office offers some additional templates and slightly more
beefed-up features than its open-source sister.
Google may have opted to offer StarOffice to give the
company and users of Google Pack, certain legal protections, too.
“Using the Sun code, rather than vanilla OpenOffice
code, insulates them and their users from any lawsuits that
Microsoft may eventually decide they want to bring,”
says Silver. The 2004 settlement between Microsoft and
Sun provided protection from Microsoft lawsuits against
StarOffice as well as other Sun products.
Microsoft has not publicly said if it will pursue legal
action in the future over Open Office but left the option open
in a patent agreement with Novell that both
companies hoped would spur better interoperability between
Windows and Linux. In the patent filing, Microsoft made
mention of “clone products” but didn’t
mention specifically if it believed OpenOffice to be