Microsoft's cash cow, Office XP, could soon find itself haemorrhaging customers as computer users move over to cheeky upstart StarOffice — if PC Advisor readers are to be believed.

Nearly two thirds of respondents to a recent poll on the PC Advisor website (61.5 percent) indicated that they thought the sixth and latest version of the Sun Microsystems-owned office suite represents a 'serious threat' to Microsoft's current stranglehold.

Although Sun Microsystems started charging for the office software suite for the first time back in May, at £52.99 it is still around £430 cheaper than a standalone version of Office XP.

Its latest incarnation is widely regarded as its best so far — though this is hardly unusual in the software world. Up and down the country IT experts have spent the past four months loading up version 6.0 and then taking it out for a spin for their employers and clients.

Aimed squarely at Microsoft Office, rather than lower end desktop suites such as EasyOffice and Microsoft Works, the word on the street is that nine months into the IT industry's worst ever year, businesses are attracted by the prospects of saving thousands of pounds.

Sun's quality assurance tests have added to the air of confidence surrounding the product, with the company pledging to issue patches to fix any glitches.

Other attractions include the ability to install Sun's retail package on up to five PCs, unlike Office XP which can only be run on two systems concurrently.

Meanwhile industry analyst Gartner believes on its current course Sun could swallow up to 10 percent of the market for office suites in the next two years.

Hoping to tap into Sun's new-found cockiness, we further canvassed the opinions of PC Advisor readers.

Educational IT support engineer Paul Dick has just ordered the educational licence of StarOffice 6.0 for £45. "Sun's education deal means we are free to distribute the software to all students and staff. For areas where it [Office] is not really needed I think StarOffice will serve as a good alternative to another Microsoft licence and we can hand it out to kids who have no Office software. Also non-teaching staff are eligible."

Meanwhile, network administrator and software engineer Barry Scott is particularly keen on the new interface: "I like StarOffice and have done since its early days," he says. "When you put together an impressive feature set, a low asking price and compatibility with Microsoft Office documents I'd have thought its future is more or less assured."

According to Microsoft's Stephanie Thorn, desktop product marketing manager for Office XP, the disparity in pricing is greatly lessened once training costs are taken into account. "For power users, StarOffice isn't something you're going to pick up in five minutes," she says.