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Google's Latest Software Move

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW  ) have just put their heads together and decided to make StarOffice available for free, as part of the Google Pack service.

StarOffice is an alternative to the Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Office suite we all know and love/loathe, and it's a cousin of the open-source OpenOffice project. Now, Google easily could have stuck with OpenOffice, because, after all, how do you beat free? Well, you beat it with a free product backed by commercial support. Enter StarOffice.

There has been much ado about Google playing to beat Microsoft at its own productivity-software game. There was last year's acquisition of Web-based word-processing specialist Writely, which is now part of the Google Documents and Spreadsheets service. Rumors about a Google-made Web browser to rival Internet Explorer won't go away, and people still seem to think that the internal-use Linux version big G uses will hit the streets someday. And now ... this.

But I wouldn't put too much stock in that idea. It's more likely that the company just wants to put useful tools into the hands of as many people as possible, and that it wants people to associate the Google brand with a warm, fuzzy feeling and then come back for more.

A budget-minded family that knows about freely available, high-quality tools like StarOffice might spring for a low-end Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) or Gateway (NYSE: GTW  ) with no worries about investing another couple of hundred dollars into the programs that actually make the machine useful. That's the function of Google Pack, through and through, and it's the reason why it includes software such as eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) Skype or RealNetworks' (Nasdaq: RNWK  ) RealPlayer. Those products are in direct competition with Google's own Google Talk client and YouTube services, respectively.

As for Sun, the company thrives on controversy -- CEO Jonathan Schwartz is probably smiling over his morning latte as he peruses the conspiracy theories across the Web today. And StarOffice could use a potentially high-volume distribution channel as well as a high-profile partner brand, since most people still don't know that it exists.

This is not about money. It's about mind share.

Further Foolishness:

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick, and eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Dell is both. Try out either service free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. This article -- and everything else Anders writes -- was produced on OpenOffice Writer. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is as controversial as a free lunch, yet as smooth as a vanilla-bean cappuccino spilled on silken sheets. Don't ask.

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