Microsoft adds an 'Office Starter' edition to its distribution plans

Microsoft adds an 'Office Starter' edition to its distribution plans

Summary: Microsoft officials shared on October 8 more details about three new ways the company is planning to try distributing Office 2010 when the product ships next summer: Office Starter, Product Key Card and Click to Run.


Microsoft officials shared on October 8 more details about three new ways the company is planning to try distributing Office 2010 when the product ships next summer.

Via a post on the Office 2010 Engineering blog, Microsoft officials explained three new distribution mechanisms the company will use to get more users to try the next version of Office. The three:

Office Starter 2010: A preload that includes stripped-down versions of only Word 2010 and Excel 2010. (Stripped-down here means basic document viewing and editing only.) Starter will be ad-supported, so, free. But Microsoft is positioning it as "an easy way for customers  to try the product and eventually upgrade to enhanced versions of Office," not as a replacement for Office. This is meant to replace the Microsoft Works trial that is often preloaded on new PCs. In spite of its name, Office Starter 2010 really has little resemblance to Windows 7 Starter Edition.

Product Key Card: This is a single-license card that unlocks Office 2010 which will be sold at major retailers and OEMs. The idea behind this is to allow users to more easily and quickly upgrade to one of the three full consumer versions of Microsoft Office 2010. There's no media on the card; it's just a key. This works when an Office image is pre-installed already on a new machine and the key activates it.

Click-to-Run: This streaming/virtualization technology is targeting the existing Office installed base. Microsoft has been testing the Click to Run functionality among a select group of Office testers since earlier this summer. The Office applications are streamed to you and so you can get up and going in minutes instead of a half hour or longer. You can start using the individual apps as each is downloaded to your machine. And the Click to Run version can be used alongside existing versions of Office that you might already have on your PC.

Microsoft officials aren't yet sharing any pricing details regarding the Product Key Card or Click-to-Run.

I'm betting a lot of pundits are going to be trumpeting "Microsoft drops price of Office with Starter to zero out from Google Docs pressure!" when they read about this announcement. But that's not what this is about.

Microsoft knows that older versions of Office are the biggest competitors to a new release of Office and that the company needs to find new ways to get customers to try Office so they'll consider buying it. If you dig up Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's "Internet Services Disruption" memo from 2005, Ozzie focuses quite a bit on how Microsoft needed to do more software trials and devlop new distribution mechanisms to keep the company competitive.

Do you think any of these new distribution vehicles will get more current Office users to give Office 2010 a try? Why or why not?

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Consumer Preinstalls

    As a preinstall on new consumer computers, it makes a lot more sense than Microsoft Works.
  • Family packs, payment plans, unlimited downloads

    I think if MS offered family pack bundles; partial payments over periods of time until the software is fully paid for; and unlimited downloads of the software to registered machines, MS could sell more Office and other software.
    P. Douglas
    • Office Home & Student is a family pack

      You can install it on as many as three PCs in your home. It lacks Outlook and Access, but Vista's mail and calendaring programs are sufficient for home use, and there's little need for Access at home.
      Michael Kelly
      • True

        but Windows Live Mail is a better option than Windows Mail because it combines calendar features with mail, and also provides the connections to the like-named Windows Live services for Calendar, Mail, and Contacts. In Windows 7, Windows Mail is no longer included, which is good for a number of reasons (user's choice, and no redundancy).

        (Photo email is also an amazing feature that wow's everybody that I show)
        • No mailer in 7

          Is there no email client at all included with windows 7? That sucks
          • Choice if fine I use Thunderbird

            Most computer manufactures will be including the Windows Live mail option on their computers. If they do not it is easily downloaded and gives MS the option to show you there are other products in the live line that you may be interested in.

            People complain when too much is included with an operating system and they complain when there is not enough included, clearly not everyone can be pleased.
      • In the words of Johnny Carson ...

        ... "I did not know that." Thanks. A trial version of Office 2007 came on my PC. I did not know you could buy it in a family pack.
        P. Douglas
        • There IS one caveat, of course...

          You're supposed to have a family member enrolled in a school in order to be eligible for the Student edition of Office.
          • Uh?

            How do they verify? Those editions are sold at the local Best Buy/Futureshop / Other software retailers
          • Trust

            They trust you! Or maybe they ask for a school ID when you buy it?
          • Incorrect...

            There is no requirement for a student to be one of the users. It can be for 3 family members or members of the same household. It is for non-commercial use only, of course, which includes non-profits.

            That is why the edition is called HOME and Student Edition.
            Confused by religion
          • Seconded

            This is correct. You don't have to be in an educational institution unless you purchase a product that says specifically on the packaging "for educational use only" to which retail copies of Office Home & Student do not.

            Yes, that is correct about non-commercial use, except that NO business is allowed to use them. Non-profits must use commercial software unless they are a registered charity. Charities can buy charitable volume licensing from Microsoft at about 1/3-1/6 of retail costs depending on the product, but they must purchase in volume (5+ units, but don't have to all be the same unit)
          • The Educational Version Is Better/Cheaper

            The Office 2007 that requires you to be a student, and have an .edu email address) is actually Office 2007 Ultimate, for $79 (or occasionally $59).
    • Unlimited downloads

      I like the part about pay over time. But unlimited downloads is lunacy and will never happen.
  • When The Cost Of Office Comes Down To Earth...

    Microsoft's pricing is what is keeping people from buying and using newer versions of Office. I still use Office 2003. It suits me just fine. I paid for it and I will use it until something compelling makes me want to pay more $$$$$ for a newer version. The new "features" of Office 2007 (like the "ribbon" interface) do not interest me. Sorry M$, I will not be sending you any more cash to slake your thirst.
  • RE: Microsoft adds an 'Office Starter' edition to its distribution plans

    I still use Office 2003 for the simple reason that I prefer the menu bar to the "ribbon". And, thus, will likely not move to 2010. I wish that MS would add an option for putting the menu bar back as in older versions.

    That said, the "Home and Student" version would be fine with me, price wise, except for one thing (that also keeps me using 2003): They dropped full version Outlook, which I need. So, again, I stay with 2003. [If they had dropped the ability of Outlook to connect with Exchange Server (which I do not need) (Outlook Lite? as opposed to Outlook Express, which does not meet my needs) ... that would have been a better way of differentiating home users from business users. But I need the calendar and full support for classical .PST files.

    • Consumers have their own email program from Microsoft

      It's called Windows Live Mail. It doesn't support Exchange MAPI. PST files can be imported. And as an added bonus, it's easy to use (separated mail folders is one of the best ease-of-use features they've added to WL Mail and Outlook 2007) and is free to download.
      • Seperated mail folders

        What? MS finally included a feature that I had to implement myself via macros.... nice.

        Now if only they would drop the stupid PST format and instead use real(in a window sense) folders and 1 file per emal instead...(Less chance of mail loss from corruption)
        • Yes, Microsoft included separated mailbox folders

          What I meant was that each account has its own set of mailbox folders by default in Windows Live Mail. That's a major shift from Windows Mail and Outlook Express, and it's much easier for consumers to understand. There are search folders for "all unread mail" and the like.

          In Outlook 2007, POP3 mailboxes still get consolidated into the Personal Folders by default though, but you can change the delivery mailbox for each account in the Mail Control Panel. IMAP accounts show up separately, as does Exchange mailboxes, and HTML (Outlook Connector) mailboxes.

          Both programs now leave all messages on the server by default too (unless they're deleted), so POP3 mailboxes work well if you need webmail access to them.
          • Nice

            Nice... now I have to search in this trial version of Outlook 2007 the different things I need.... Goodie...

            PS: I really like the calendar sync they implemented... althrought it was a pain to setup a webdav IIS server.