Office Starter 2010: The fine print on Microsoft's Works replacement

Office Starter 2010: The fine print on Microsoft's Works replacement

Summary: More information is coming in from various testers regarding the Office Starter 2010 build that Microsoft released to a group of selected testers late last week -- including details on macro and file type support. Do any of these make Office Starter a non-starter, in your book?


More information is coming in from various testers regarding the Office Starter 2010 build that Microsoft released to a group of selected testers late last week.

Office Starter 2010 is the Microsoft-designated replacement for its Microsoft Works product. Starter will be a low-end, free (but ad-supported) bundle of Word and Excel.

One (of many) criticisms of Works was that it didn't support all the same file types as Microsoft Office did, making Works only somewhat compatible with Office. It looks like that same limitation will be present in Office Starter, based on a frequently-asked questions document from Microsoft that one tester forwarded to me. From that FAQ document:

Q: There is a file I can open in Excel or Word that I cannot open in Excel Starter or Word Starter, why?

A: Excel Starter and Word Starter do not support exactly the same file sets.  The following file types cannot be opened in Office Starter: .xla, .xlam, .dsn, .mde, .accde, .odc, and .udl.

Also, add-ins and macros are only marginally supported in Office Starter 2010. According to Microsoft, Office Starter does not support add-ins and will not load them. From the FAQ:

Q: Files have macros, but they cannot be run in Excel Starter or Word Starter, why?

A: Office Starter does not support the creation, editing, or running of macros. However, if a document with a macro is opened in Starter, the macro remains as part of the file.

Another often-glossed-over point regarding Office Starter is how it will be made available. It will be an OEM-only product and not available for download. Again, from the Microsoft FAQ:

Q: How will I be able to get the released version of Office Starter?

A: Office Starter will only be available as pre-loaded software on select new PCs pre-loaded with the Office suites.

As testers noted last week, there's a new Office-to-Go feature in the Office Starter product that allows users to take their Starter copies (and associated documents) with them on a USB drive. But that feature only works on Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows 7 machines. Since Starter is an OEM-only product that will be preloaded on new PCs, it makes sense it won't work on XP machines, as OEMs are phasing out XP support (the last bastion for XP -- netbooks -- won't be supported after next spring).

What do you think of these Office Starter 2010 limitations? Are any of them onerous enough to make Starter a non-starter?

Topics: Collaboration, Microsoft, 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).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • For me, non-starter

    A crippled, incompatible, ad supported product makes little sense to me, when Open Office and Google are alternatives.
    • Exactly

      There's already a portable version of OpenOffice that runs on a USB stick - nothing new here.
    • It dosen't make sense to you because you can think

      The people who would go for Office Starter don't evenknow Open Office even exists.
      Over and Out
    • Open/Google Office no good for business

      They are alternatives, but not replacements. Going oo->MS or MS->OO mangles documents. I would never trust OO to prepare a contract that would be read by a customer in MS. It WILL look funny, and that WILL cost me the job.

      I've looked briefly at SoftMaker. It's not free but it's reasonable and my initial reaction is that it's more compatible with MS. AND it's portable. But it still doesn't support docx files.
      • It is fine for business.

        Here in the US, Word still rules, but overseas (I work for a worldwide company), since 2007 our clients in India insist on ODT for all editable correspondence, OO is common in Europe as well, and more and more companies are insisting on PDF as an exchange format. It is a toss up in Asia with .doc, then .rtf then .odf being the formats of choice. My manager has OO installed alongside Office.

        You are right, MS to OO and OO to MS can lose formatting, but the same is true for 97 to XP, 95 to 2007, XP to 2007. People seem to forget that. It is very telling that my company had to migrate all Word 95 to Office XP now because it became apparent that waiting any longer, they might be unreadable. I use OO to convert Word 95 documents that my colleages find causes XP to simply "puke" on the old document.

        And you know what, the customer is always right, and anyone soliciting bids can choose any format and vendors will simply suck it up. So, if Verizon, for example, simply said .ODT is our official format, deal with it or go away, poof, that's the way it will be.

      • Both have worked well for us for years

        My users run a mix of MS Office from 97 to current, as well as
        OpenOffice and Apple's iWork. I and a few others in IT prefer Google
        Docs. With the exception of a very few Word documents, we have not
        had any problems exchanging documents.

        And those problem Word documents that didn't open perfectly in
        OpenOffice also didn't open perfectly in all versions of MS Word.

        IMO, that's a great reason to for all of us to use ODF.
      • RE: Office Starter 2010: The fine print on Microsoft's Works replacement

        @jdaughtry<br><br>If the contract requires no actions/modifications on your client's end, OO offers a PDF export. I bet nothing can be better than a PDF document as long as it doesnt require any modifications. We have OO as corporate standard. We use<br>1. OO docs for internal documents<br>2. OO -> PDF for read only documents to be distributed outside the organization<br>3. A limited number (typically 100:1 ratio) of M$ Office for modifiable documents for external distribution (If specified by the client as a requirement)
    • You're a non-starter

      Why would you use google docs over a free version of Office? It, most likely, will at least support the same features that google docs. It will have a familiar interface so the speed you pick up using office on a work or school computer will translate over. It is completely compatible with the main Word formats that people use (.doc, .docx, etc) and won't screw up formatting when you transfer it. The limitations seem completely insignificant for the average user. If you need to type up a paper for school, there it is. It's free, comes with your computer, and is very familiar and easy to use. Need more advanced features? Get home and student version cheap from numerous places.

      Open office may be capable of a lot of things that google docs and this office starter may not be capable of, but it's a completely different interface, and not worth the hassle to learn for most people. Why bother when most companies are using MS office products, and usually offer a home use program to get office enterprise for $10-20? It doesn't make sense.

      Point being, this office starter makes a lot of sense for great number of people, and will keep people in the microsoft office ecosystem, it's a smart move by MS. My guess is that it will support the same functions as the office web apps will, but just be running natively outside the browser.
  • The excluded formats are used in only about 1% of documents

    It is well-known that macros are used in only about 1% of Microsoft Office documents. The other excluded file formats are very specialized, and the chance of a beginner of ever encountering them is close to nill. For example, there is a specialized binary version of the Office 2007 Excel format that is designed for better performance if your spreadsheet is 10's of megabytes in size.

    There is no downside to just supporting .docx and .xlsx for a free starter kit, which is what this is. For anyone to call it "crippled" displays either ignorance or malice.
    • Heh

      You said "or". How adorable.
    • Ignorance or malice has nothing to do with it.

      Questions about issues of compatibility are quite relevant, not from
      "ignorance or malice". It is important to know those things.

      While at home, for cost savings, a person may want Office Starter to use
      on Word and Excel files. Their company may not provide a MS Office
      copy for home use so it will be the users responsibility to purchase
      something. Their question may be "should I download Office Starter or
      purchase MS Office?". So again, asking questions about file compatibility
      and feature set is quite important.
      • I was talking about calling it "crippled"

        My "gnorance or malice"comment was clearly pointed at people who called it "crippled". It did not refer to those who merely ask about file compatability, which is an important question.
        • Ah,

          on the web a comment made comes across much differently than when
          said in person. Truly, comments need better explanation, otherwise it
          leaves them open for interpretation, and speculation of intent which
          many times is incorrect; such as now.

          In your original post I perceived it one way your intent was another. So it
          seems we both could have been more exacting perhaps.

          Thank you for your reply.
    • Not better said

      It could not have said in any more plain and honest terms. Bravo.
  • RE: Office Starter 2010: The fine print on Microsoft's Works replacement

    Please let it be known that Works 9 could edit and save to Open XML and earlier versions could edit and save Office binary formats. Even worse news is Office 2007 and below users will never get ISO compliant Open XML as announced on the Engineering Office blog. Just few days ago I learnt Microsoft's ODF implementation in Office doesn't even support encrytion or reading encrypted documents yet they claim ODF support. I am thinking of switching to an alternative Office suite. Enough with Microsoft's format non-sense.
  • Activation, WGA, DRM, BSA, proprietary lock-in - I love M$!!!

  • Totally Insufficient

    I use word, excel, and powerpoint all the time at home. Starter is inadequate. Powerpoint, in particular, makes it very easy to merge two pictures together without having to learn another picture editing tool.

    I can get by without outlook, but the other three programs are essential. If MS can't supply them with the file extensions most of us use, I'll switch to open office.
    • What file extensions are missing?

      The ones listed are related to macros, add-ins and databases. And those wouldn't work on OOo anyway.
      Michael Kelly
  • Significant Difference

    Does Starter *create* files that cannot be opened in a full version, or can it merely not *open* some of the more sophisticated files? The former was by far the bigger problem with Works, in my estimation.
    • It can't create or open the esoteric files

      ... but it can open and create all the common ones.