It's not hard to see the appeal of Star Office 8.0. It's loads cheaper cheaper than Microsoft's Office 2007, and while OpenOffice 2.2 is free, Star Office has a comprehensive feature set and includes customer support.

StarOffice 8.0, available by download or on CD, includes a few licensed elements and costs £35, although it shares the same code base as OpenOffice 2.2. At regular intervals, StarOffice developer Sun takes a snapshot of the open-source development taking place continuously on OpenOffice and releases the most stable version with additional support.

Office - the free alternatives

The core applications of Star Office 8.0 are just as you would expect, comprising a word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing application and a presentation package. Writer, the Star Office 8.0 word processor, isn't as snazzy as Microsoft Word 2007, but includes a few elements Microsoft has only just caught up with – such as the ability to save to PDF.

More important to most users will be the fact that compatibility and performance have been greatly improved, with Star Office Writer capable of opening multiple file formats. StarOffice Writer has a better spellchecker and thesaurus than OpenOffice, enjoying more templates and clip art, as well as support for Asian language formats. One thing not included is the ability to merge documents as emails (which OpenOffice can do for you), but there is support for macros in StarOffice.

Beyond the basics

The spreadsheet application, Calc, compares well to Excel, providing a range of functions and formulae that'll enable you to perform calculations quickly. Users can create multiple worksheets and analyse data using a DataPilot (the equivalent of Excel's Pivot Tables). The only area in which Calc suffers is in the range of charts and graphs that can be created, but these are more than sufficient for most users.

Impress is a perfectly adequate presentation package. If this is important to you, however, for the StarOffice version which more templates than OpenOffice 2.2. These are still inferior to those included with PowerPoint, but if you're willing to put in a little extra work then you can still create decent presentation.

More importantly, Star Office 8.0 Impress provides you with plenty of help in terms of structuring your ideas. It can export presentations as Flash files, too.

The database tool, Base, is a complex relational database, which will be fairly forbidding to the casual user but offers sophisticated tools for creating forms and reports that can work with several database engines. The drawing component, Draw, is a charting component (akin to Visio).

Spot the difference

In terms of features, there's little difference between the two applications, but StarOffice includes the Sun Java Runtime Environment. Java is required for both suites, although OpenOffice will run with free Java software and the Sun implementation isn't essential. More important will be support, which is where StarOffice may have the edge.

Star Office: Specs

  • Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon
  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Linux/Sun Solaris
  • 128MB RAM (256MB recommended), 320MB hard disk space
  • Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon
  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Linux/Sun Solaris
  • 128MB RAM (256MB recommended), 320MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

The small fee that appears to make StarOffice less desirable brings with it web-based and helpdesk support, and this is one thing that could appeal to OpenOffice users. Both versions provide superb, very stable office suites, that offer a challenge to Microsoft Office. In this case low-cost definitely doesn't mean sub-standard.

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