In what is just the latest in an increasingly long list of ways in which it is competing head-to-head with Microsoft, Google this week began providing Sun's StarOffice 8 office productivity suite to users for free. The StarOffice suite usually costs almost $100, but Google is paying an undisclosed sum per copy so that users of its Google Pack can obtain the software at no cost. StarOffice is compatible with various Microsoft Office data formats, but it's also compatible with the Open Document Format (ODF), which Sun and others are positioning as an open standard for the future.

"Using ODF within StarOffice allows for interoperability and choice among those seeking free and open standards-based office productivity applications," says Sun executive vice-president Rich Green. "We are absolutely thrilled to offer a new version of StarOffice that includes Google's web search capabilities."

The release of StarOffice 8 in Google Pack is a long-awaited result of a late 2005 agreement between Sun and Google in which the companies announced an alliance to promote each other's products and technologies. StarOffice is the commercial version of the free OpenOffice.org office productivity suite and differs from its open source sibling in a few ways, including its database component and document format support. Both products support ODF and Microsoft's proprietary Office formats. Over 100 million people have downloaded the free OpenOffice.org suite to date, Sun says.

Previous to this deal, Google had been offering an online word processing and spreadsheet solution called Google Docs & Sheets. Though compatible with ODF and various Microsoft Office formats, this offering is quite limited compared to Office, and requires users to be online. StarOffice and OpenOffice.org, by comparison, are full-featured office productivity suites, like Microsoft Office, and can be used offline.

I've taken a look at the new Google Pack with Sun StarOffice 8. You can read my review on the SuperSite for Windows.