Sun Microsystems will begin offering its StarOffice 7 suite of office productivity applications on a one-year subscription from next month for users in Japan, said the company.

One-year licensed versions of the software will be offered by local distributor Sourcenext for ¥1,980 (US$18.60) through Internet download, retail stores and also convenience stores, said Yoshiyuki Tanaka, a spokesman for Sun's Japan unit. It's the first time such a pricing scheme has been offered for the software in any market, said Sun.

When the licence expires users of the software will have the option to either renew the licence or discontinue paying. In the case of the latter the software will lock up and remain unusable until a new licence has been purchased, he said.

The conventional version of the software, which is called StarSuite 7 in Japan and other East Asian markets, with a licence that does not expire, will continue to be available for ¥9,800, said Tanaka.

Market share figures for the software were not available from Sun although the company said Sourcenext sold a total of 30,000 copies of the suite in 2003. The market leader in Japan is Microsoft's Office suite, which is available preinstalled on many personal computers.