Microsoft Offering Ad-Supported Office 2010 'Starter,' Pre-Installed Version

Microsoft announced that Office 2010 will come pre-installed on major manufacturers' PCs. Users will have access to a free, stripped down version of the productivity suite, Office Starter 2010, with the option to upgrade to the full version of Office 2010 with the purchase of a single-license card. Microsoft is attempting to push Office 2010 through multiple channels as it seeks to head off a competitive threat from Google Apps and other browser-based productivity suites.

Microsoft says that Office 2010, the next version of its productivity suite, will come pre-installed on PCs produced by major manufacturers.

There's just one catch: you won't be able to use the software right out of the box, at least not the full version. Instead, users purchasing these computers will initially have access to Office Starter 2010, which contains free and stripped-down versions of Word and Excel. Documents in Word Starter and Excel Starter can be created, viewed, and saved-but if a user wants the full Office 2010, they will need to purchase a single-use license on a plastic card from a retailer such as Best Buy, input the code, and unlock the fully functional version of the software platform, which includes PowerPoint and OneNote.

"The Product Key Card is a single license card (with no DVD media) that will be sold at major electronic outlets," Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office vision, wrote in an Oct. 7 posting on the Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering blog. "The key number contained on the card will unlock Office 2010 software that has been pre-loaded by the PC manufacturers on their PCs, and enables a simpler and faster path for consumers to begin using any one of three full versions of Microsoft Office," including Office Home & Student 2010, Office Home & Business 2010, or Office Professional 2010.

Word Starter and Excel Starter will feature display advertising. The full version of Office 2010, obviously, will not. In his blog posting, Numoto refers to Starter 2010 as "advertising-supported."

The current plan is for Office Starter to be available in the first half of 2010, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, and ship on machines loaded with the upcoming Windows 7 operating system. The introduction of the stripped-down productivity suite means that the previous offering in that category, Microsoft Works, is being retired.

Office 2010 represents a sea-change for Microsoft from its previous desktop-centric approach to productivity software. During the summer, Microsoft announced plans to offer a simplified version of Office 2010 as a free online service for Microsoft Live subscribers, a move designed to challenge Google Apps and other browser-based productivity suites that, while they currently occupy a relatively small market share, could potentially become greater competitive threats in the medium- to long-term.

The online versions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint, like Office Starter 2010, will not replicate all the features available in the full Office 2010. Microsoft will also offer Office as a hosted subscription service in addition to the regular desktop/on-premises version.

Microsoft is also offering a mobile version of Office for its own newly released Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphone operating system, as well as rival Nokia's Symbian OS.

Numoto's blog posting suggested that the broad beta of Office 2010 would be available later this year.