More On The Free Software Wars

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s strategy of acquiring StarOffice and distributing it for free is a serious threat to Microsoft Corp. and is ironically similar to what Microsoft did to Netscape Communications ("Free software from anywhere?" News: Analysis & Commentary, Sept. 13). Netscape had a 90%+ share of the browser market, and Microsoft's response was to give away a similar product, Explorer. Today, Microsoft Office has a high market share, and Sun will give away a similar product.

Consumers will take advantage of this offer. Why not? If someone needed to supply his new business with computers and software, would he rather pay $2,500 to buy five people Microsoft Office, or pay nothing? Someone more adventurous could buy older computers and put (free) Linux and StarOffice on them, saving even more money.

Of course, Microsoft will also probably give Office away on the Web. But will this really help them? Office sales were reported to be 40% of revenue for Microsoft. The most ironic turn of events could be Microsoft Office use over the Web, powered by Sun Unix or Penguin Computing Inc.'s Linux servers. Of course, Microsoft could use some servers running NT; they would just need 10 times as many of them, since NT is not reliable. Either way, this development will eat into the sales of Microsoft Office, and perhaps not boost sales of NT for servers.

Sun has a good idea. Many people are ready to get off the merry-go-round of constant, expensive Microsoft Office upgrades. As for new purchasers, the choices keep improving. StarOffice runs on more operating systems than Microsoft Office does. Microsoft's only logical way to stop Sun's eating some of their lunch will be to buy Sun.

A.K. Siewers

Santa Cruz, Calif.

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