As promised Sun Microsystems has released the source code for its StarOffice suite of productivity applications, although a Web-based version of the software that can be used online continues to suffer delays.

The code was made available for download on Friday at the OpenOffice Web site, which will act as a coordination point for development of the software, says Bill Roth, a group product manager at Sun.

Like other open-source projects, offering the source code to StarOffice will allow software developers to modify the product in a way that better suits their needs and to create new features that can be shared with other users of the product.

Sun, which is a fierce rival of Microsoft, is trying to position the software as a viable alternative to Microsoft Office.

Analysts say they don't expect businesses to switch over to a product as new as StarOffice anytime soon, but the fact that the software is being offered for free could make it attractive in the longer term.

Still absent from the picture is StarPortal, a version of StarOffice that users will be able to access over the Internet and use as a service.

While StarOffice resides on a desktop, StarPortal can be hosted on a server by a business or an application service provider (ASP) and accessed using a Web browser. Microsoft is developing a server-based version of Microsoft Office.

Sun originally said it would release StarPortal in the first half of 2000 but the product has yet to materialise.

According to a Sun spokesperson in July, the company hoped to begin testing a beta, or preview version of the product with a view to rolling it out by the end of the third quarter.

The version of StarOffice currently available from Sun is version 5.2.