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Office Starter 2010 Unveiled, Replacing Microsoft Works

Microsoft has devised a way to introduce new PC buyers to its Office productivity suite through a "Starter" edition.

The company has developed a "reduced functionality" version of Office called Microsoft Office Starter 2010 that includes just Word and Excel. It replaces Microsoft Works, and will be provided to PC manufacturers for imaging on new PCs only. It won't be available via download, according to a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail.

Microsoft's announcement of Office Starter 2010 on Friday made no mention of a Mac version. Apple sells its own productivity suite for Macs called iWork '09, which costs about $80. In contrast, the full Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 edition costs $150.

Full versions of Office 2010 products are expected to appear in the first half of next year, and that's when new PCs will begin appearing with Office Starter 2010, the Microsoft spokesperson confirmed.

Office Starter 2010 will be "ad-supported," with an advertisement popping into the bottom right corner of the application. It's not a timed trial. Microsoft doesn't use the word "free" to describe Office Starter 2010, so the cost is either associated with buying the new PC or viewing ads, or both.

One caveat to using Office Starter 2010 is that the user has to be connected to the Internet to get security patches and updates. Microsoft plans to introduce a new technology called "click-to-run" that will stream updates to Office Starter 2010, as well as manage upgrades to full paid editions of the productivity suite. Click-to-run uses virtualization technology so that users can have Office Starter 2010 running on the desktop alongside other Microsoft Office editions, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Office Starter 2010 users will have a "purchase" option in the application enabling them to upgrade to any of the three full editions of Office 2010 that Microsoft plans to release next year, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. Those editions include Home & Student 2010, Home & Business 2010, and Professional 2010.

The upgrade process is speeded up because of the preloaded Office Starter 2010 bits on the machine. In addition to using the purchase option to order an upgrade, users can get a product key card that will be sold through Microsoft's retail partners, such as electronics stores. The card is not a DVD but it contains a number to unlock all of the bits.

Exactly how much disk space is used by Office Starter 2010 on new PCs isn't exactly clear at this point.

"We are still in the development process for Office 2010 and do not have details on how much disk space the product will take, but yes, the Office image will be preloaded onto PCs and customers will be able to activate it based on the product key card they purchase," the Microsoft spokesperson explained.

The spokesperson added that click-to-run versions of software "are nearly half the size so it is a much lower impact on hard drive space." So far, Microsoft plans to use click-to-run as a custom-designed solution just for Office 2010, but it's evaluating the technology for other Microsoft products.

The decision to limit Office Starter 2010 to include just Word and Excel was based on customer surveys of Microsoft Works users, according to an Office team video. The aim was to provide tools for everyday tasks but also introduce users to Office 2010's user interface. Office Starter 2010 will have the same Fluent Ribbon menu system, as well as Backstage View, a page-like screen that provides details about Office 2010 document files.

Word and Excel files in the Office Starter 2010 product will be capable of working with Microsoft's cloud-based cousins, namely Word and Excel Office Web Apps, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. However, automatic synchronization between Office Starter 2010 apps and the cloud-based apps isn't in the picture.

"People will be able to access their Word documents and Excel documents whether working online or offline," the spokesperson explained. "They will not be able to automatically sync their docs from Office Web Apps to copies saved on their desktop."

Office 2010 is currently undergoing a limited technical preview, but Microsoft plans to release a public beta of the software some time this year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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