Sun Micro introduces free alternative to Microsoft Office

Microsoft has a new problem on its plate with rival Sun Microsystems unveiling Open Office 3.0 on 13 October, the latest product to compete with its ubiquitous, and high-revenue, Office suite. Moreover, it has been so popular that the site partly crashed due to excessive traffic.

On Tuesday, the site still appeared to be having trouble with the load. "Apologies - our Web site is struggling to cope with the unprecedented demand for the new release 3.0 of OpenOffice.org," the site said. "The technical teams are trying to come up with a solution."

The software suite combines word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools similar to the Microsoft Office suite. The open source version, however, is free, making it an attractive alternative for people or businesses that need only basic capabilities.

The biggest improvement to Open Office 3 is the ability to open Office 2007 files. However, some files, such as .docx, .xisx, and .pptx, can only be read. The second major enhancement is a new version for the Apple Mac. The upgrade installs and runs like a normal OS X application.

As the global economic crisis dries up credit and adversely affects IT budgets, corporate chiefs and administrators are going to be more open to a Microsoft Office alternative that is more compatible with Microsoft Office. So, the product may end up eating into Microsoft's revenues considerably, especially as IBM has also expressed support for the open-source software.

OpenOffice.org is a free cross-platform office application suite available for a number of different computer operating systems. It supports the ISO standard OpenDocument Format (ODF) for data interchange as its default file format, as well as Microsoft Office 97-2003 formats, Microsoft Office 2007 format (ability to "open" documents in version 3), among others.

OpenOffice.org was originally derived from StarOffice, an office suite developed by StarDivision and acquired by Sun Microsystems in August 1999. The source code of the suite was released in July 2000 with the aim of reducing the dominant market share of Microsoft Office by providing a free, open and high-quality alternative; later versions of StarOffice are based upon OpenOffice.org with additional proprietary components.