The new Office 2010 Starter Edition will be free forever, pledges Microsoft, as long as you can put up with advertisements running in cut-down versions of Word and Excel.
For decades Microsoft Office has been one of Redmond’s most reliable cash-cows. But now Microsoft is setting Office free – well, with a few caveats.
In response to increased competition from no-cost suites such as OpenOffice and online apps like Google Docs, Microsoft is will release a free ‘Starter Edition’ of Office 2010 which will be available to OEMs for preloading onto new PCs.
But it’s not exactly a suite – it will contain just two programs, Word and Excel.
And both will be Starter Editions with pared-back functionality that’s roughly equivalent to the current word processor and spreadsheet capabilities of Works, which Microsoft will axe next year.
Unlike Works, which was always an odd fit with the Office family, Word SE and Excel SE will have the same ribbon UI and XML-based file format as the standard Office 2010 apps.
While a boatload of features will be missing, Microsoft considers there’ll be enough to meet the rudimentary needs of basic home PC users. And if there’s not - well, clicking on a greyed-out menu option will no doubt advise users that they can enjoy that missing feature by upgrading to a full version of Office.
To that end, Microsoft is also introducing a Office 2010 Product Key Card which can be bought from major retailers and OEMs.
The card contains the product key code for a single license of Office 2010 and can be used to unlock the suite’s full functionality by upgrading to Office Home & Student 2010, Office Home & Business 2010, or Office Professional 2010.
The entire Office 2010 codebase will be preloaded onto the PC’s hard drive, so activation and upgrading from Office 2010 SE to a full version will be an instant process.