Sun is to charge for StarOffice 6.0 because its customers wanted them too. The strangest justification for a price rise we have ever heard, but that's what the company says.

"Corporate companies don't use free software," explains Jonathan Mills, software product marketing manager for Sun. While Sun has always offered paid support for the product, IT managers simply wouldn't look at the product when it was free. Mills says that interest has increased along with the price tag. "There is a huge amount more interest now, than when we didn't charge for it."

It has announced a retail price of £52.99, while volume licenses cost from £20-£40 per user.

But a free version of the product is available for download from OpenOffice. The extras offered by StarOffice 6.0 include a database engine, some fonts and clip art and free telephone support.

The retail product also goes through Sun's quality assurance tests, which means in theory you get a more stable product. The company will issue patches to fix any glitches, whereas users of OpenOffice will have to rely on other developers to come up with solutions.

Mills says that research firm Gartner anticipates Sun could capture up to 10 percent of the market for office suites in the next two years. The company claims a user base of 10 million.

This doesn't come close to Microsoft's 60 million licensed Office users, but at a price of £222 for an upgrade version of Office XP or £482 for the full product, StarOffice is a tempting choice. You can also install Sun's retail package on up to five PCs, unlike Office XP which can only be run on two systems concurrently.