Ontario’s school system gives StarOffice a shot

The province of Ontario Thursday said it has reached an agreement with Sun Microsystems of Canada to provide more than two million students with access to the company’s StarOffice desktop productivity suite.

Sun Canada is calling

it the largest ever StarOffice 7 shipment in North America. The software has been delivered to each of Ontario’s 72 public and Catholic school boards and may be freely copied for school use. Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed, but Sun Canada’s director for education and research Lynne Zucker said that the fee was minimal.

Zucker said that Sun is better known in higher education circles in Canada and that this arrangement is an effort to make a name for Sun in Ontario’s K-12 schools.

“”I think Sun’s perspective is not about knocking out other office suites, but getting some exposure and recognition for contributions in education into the K-12 arena,”” said Zucker. “”This licence agreement will make them aware that StarOffice exists and give them an opportunity to start testing it classroom situations.””

Zucker noted that StarOffice is interoperable with all major office suites on the market, including Microsoft Office.

Desktop software in education is proving to be a hotly contested market with providers like Microsoft also selling school boards low-cost licences. In March, for example, the company signed an agreement with the province of Manitoba to provide cheap licensing for Windows XP and Office 2003 for 130 “”in-need”” schools. The deal, worth approximately $15 million over five years, also included student and teacher training.

Zucker said that Sun will provide StarOffice training for Ontario’s students and teachers, much of it through online tutorials. Sun is working on a “”train the trainer”” program so teachers can be brought up to speed on the software and pass on that knowledge to their students.

Linda Nicolson, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Education, said that the province is always in the market for low-cost desktop software. The StarOffice suite was selected by the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee (OSAPAC), made up of 10 representatives from the province’s 72 school boards.

It’s too early to tell how extensively the software will be used by schools, said Nicolson, but OSAPAC members were optimistic about its future. “”There are some (schools) who will use it right away and there are some who will take some time to explore . . . how it might meet their needs,”” she said.

A potential benefit of using StarOffice is that it is available on Windows, Solaris and Linux, said Zucker. The latter may be of particular interest to schools, she said, given the growth of open source software in public sector markets. She said that some of the biggest StarOffice deals Sun has reached are with governments in China and South America.

“”I think the target is organizations that are beginning to make strong commitments to open source software,”” she said. “”Often the academic environments lead that kind of thinking.””

Zucker said that Sun already has a similar StarOffice deal in place with K-12 schools across Nova Scotia. Last year, Sun reached an agreement with Manitoba to upgrade the province’s schools to a common Internet platform based on Sun One portal technology. According to Zucker, the StarOffice deal with Ontario is the firm’s largest K-12 win in Canada to date.

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