Microsoft is starting to make changes to its distribution strategy for its Office suite, most likely in preparation for Office 2013.
Microsoft notified its OEM PC partners this week that it is starting to phase out Office Starter 2010, a stripped-down bundle of Word and Excel that it provided to PC makers to preload on new machines. Microsoft was hoping Office Starter customers would decide to “trade up” and activate a more expensive, more complete Office 2010 version once they try Starter.
The word from my contacts is Microsoft will be guiding its OEMs to rely on Office Web Apps as the replacement for Starter, going forward. Office Web Apps are the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that Microsoft announced in 2008.
Microsoft is rumored to be beefing up Office Web Apps significantly with the Office 2013 (codenamed Office 15) suite. While preview code for the local versions of the Office 2013 apps has leaked out since the start of this year, there has been very little leaked information about what Microsoft has done to tweak Office Web Apps with the coming release. There is believed to be a new Office Web Apps Server coming as part of the Office 2013 release.
Office Starter 2010 enables basic document viewing and editing only for Word 2010 and Excel 2010. Starter was designed to be ad-supported and provided free to consumers. Office Starter was designed to replace the Microsoft Works trial that is often preloaded on new PCs.
Microsoft has been making Office Starter 2010 available to OEMs and system builders as part of an OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK). This week, Microsoft introduced a new "Office 2010 Transition OPK" that removes Office Starter 2010.
Microsoft's note on its site about the new OPK states "Effective immediately, the Office 2010 Transition OPK replaces prior versions of the Office 2010 OPK." (There's a screen shot of the page embedded in this post, which can be enlarged by clicking on it.)
"The website for OEMs to order Starter licenses is now disabled, and all of the links from the Office OPK pages have been pulled. The 'Transition OPK' is now the only download available," said one of my contacts, who requested anonymity.
I've asked Microsoft if the company has any more to say about the apparent discontinuation of Office Starter. No word back yet.
Update: From a Microsoft spokesperson comes a confirmation and explanation:
“We will begin to phase out the shipment of PCs with Office Starter 2010. After Windows 8 becomes available, most new PCs shipped will not have Office Starter. People who use Office Starter 2010 today will continue to be able to use the product for the life of their PC. For Windows7/Office Starter 2010 users who want to upgrade their PC to Windows 8 and continue using Office Starter 2010, they will have to install an update to Microsoft Office 2010 which is available today.”
A public beta of Office 2013 -- the client apps, the server apps and the services -- is expected to land sometime in the next few weeks. Originally, I had heard June was the target for the public beta, but now it's sounding like it will be in July.
Microsoft officials revealed earlier this week during the introduction of its coming Surface devices that the company is planning to make Office 2013 Home & Student version what is "included" on the Windows RT Surface tablet later this year.