Selling ads on Works because no one will buy it

Selling ads on Works because no one will buy it

Summary: Microsoft Works is a devalued product that virtually no one seriously uses. So why on earth would anyone want to pay to place ads in the product? The idea is barely less hare-brained than the notion of offering Works as a service.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Are there people out there who really do pay full retail price for Microsoft Works? I find that very hard to believe — even at the pocket-money price tag of $39.95. Works is the low-end business software suite that gets bundled with new PCs. The manufacturers buy it at an OEM price of no more than a few dollars — an average of $2, to be precise, according to an internal Microsoft document that CNET reporters saw last year. The price is so low because Works has no real value.

Microsoft Works 9.0So I'm wondering why on earth anyone would pay to fund it with advertising? Unless of course that advertising had some knowledge of what the user's doing, which raises all kinds of privacy concerns. Not so much 'software plus services' as 'software plus spyware'. It's one thing to serve contextual ads to someone while they're searching the Web or reading their email on a hosted service, quite another to do it right there on their own private desktop.

I don't think Microsoft would risk the storm of protest such a move might stir up. Instead, I imagine it'll stick to selling ads to companies that want to reach the home user and small business market that Works supposedly serves — and, as fellow ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley reported yesterday, a pilot is just about to begin. It may seem odd that anyone would be interested in paying good money for ads without any real evidence of achieving a return. Yet there are plenty enough banks, telecoms providers, office supplies merchants and travel companies — not to mention software vendors — that have dollars to burn on making ineffective marketing pitches to SMBs. I'm sure Microsoft will be able hoover that money off the table with a persuasive tale about how many SMB prospects they can reach via Works.

The unfortunate truth is that most people who own a Works license have never opened the software (except perhaps to uninstall it or as a cheap upgrade path to MS Office). They got it for free with their PC, or as a special offer with something else. Maybe there are a few users out there who succumbed to an impulse and actually bought it. How lucrative a market can this ragtag assortment of freeloaders and bargain-hunters be?

To my mind, Works is a discredited product of no inherent value, whose devalued name Microsoft wants to drag further through the mud by selling advertising of no value. I suspect that once advertisers discover the poor quality of the exposure Works gives them, the product will become little more than a laughing-stock.

The idea is barely less hare-brained than the notion of offering Works as a hosted service, which to Microsoft's credit is an idea that Mary Jo floats every so often but no one within the company to date has given any credence to. You can't just take a conventional licensed software product and start hosting it — not even using desktop virtualization software (for my take on that idea, see what I wrote about Appstream: ASP throwback or SaaS saviour?). It simply doesn't scale cost-effectively.

If you're going to offer a product as a Web-hosted service — especially if it's got to compete head-for-head against Google Docs & Spreadsheets — then it has to be re-engineered from the ground up for that purpose. That's not a job for the faint-hearted — one-time Office rival WordPerfect was brought to its knees by an effort in the late 1990s by its owner Corel to re-engineer it as a browser-based application. Nothing about Works justifies sinking that much investment into it. If it already commands no value in the market as a perpetual license, how would Microsoft ever recoup the enormous cost of re-engineering it for Web delivery?

Topic: Microsoft

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Annoy the user strategy?

    Anyone who has an underpowered computer running windows (yes, I still have a couple of people using W98), Abiword for Windows is an excellent efficient word processor for these machines. Of course, if you want a word processor that is lightning fast on todays computer...

    In regards to the reason, what percentage of those "ads" do you think will be MS pushing Office 2007? The entire project may be designed to reduce/eliminate Works usage to the point where if they did kill it, no one would care anymore. What does a user replace it with...hmmm, what program does MS sell that they desperately want everyone to use?

    • MS wants everyone to use everything they sell

      With respect to your last line and the question, I'd venture a guess, Microsoft wants everyone to buy, install and use everything they produce although Vista may not run some of them, you may have to stay with XP or Win 98 SE. If software isn't your thing, you can always buy into their hardware which generally fall back in the lower scales when it comes to reviews. Each and every year MS is out trying to flog something new with some kind of WOW and MS WORKS has just about the same amount of WOW as Vista, give or take but neither impresses anyone as much as Microsoft. I'd honestly use MS WORKS and VISTA if there were NO other options out there.
  • Do your comments reflect real world

    statistics?? Sounds like you are basing everyone else's take on Works, from your own personal opinion. Can you show where Works is not widely used? How many home users do you think really buy Office? How many times have we heard "why do we need all the bells and whistles of Office, nevermind the cost, to just create simple documents or spreadsheets? Isn't that's argument? If, in your words, Works users are: <i>ragtag assortment of freeloaders and bargain-hunters be?</i><br>
    What does that say about those using OO for free! They must really be on the low end of the food chain. And what about Google docs? You think they are better than Works? My experience with Google's spreadsheet app is you can only upload the most basic and simple spreadsheets in reasonable amount of time and with any success. Any attempt to upload even a simple to moderate spreadsheet chokes on Google apps. The last one I tried to upload was a time/volume analysis...a poor man's version that broke down each day into 144 10 minute slices for patient volumes at each interval. Google could not handle even such a simple spreadsheet. It literally chokes on it. It has summary lines but surely any basic spreadsheet will support full detail, summary by row value (day) or total volumes. <br>
    So I'm not clear on why another Microsoft product is seemingly getting under your skin but I know a lot of people that use it at home because it came with their PC and they have no desire to spend the 139.00 for the basic Word, excel, Outlook pkg. (which is a great deal and beats google's 50.00 a seat apps when measured over 3 years or more. When you throw in the capabilities over Google's products it's a slam dunk) <br>
    Why would they not use Works if it comes with their PC and they need to create a document etc? I don't see a person using a tool that came with their PC as a freeloader.
    • Thinking Works a business product...

      ... does show that not too much research has been conducted. Works has a number of simple applications that make it appropriate for home use. And the removal of Word indicates that even students are now expected to purchase the less expensive version of Office.

      This may be a way of giving Works away to OEMs and making money from a few people who wouldn't spend even $20 retail. Others will spend money to avoid ads on principle.

      It's a devalued product, but there is a potential market so small it's only orders of magnitude larger than the potential market for any open source product. That's small indeed.
      Anton Philidor
      • Never heard of Works Suite?

        I got it OEM at ?40 for my dad's computer. It comes with Word, Encarta, Autoroute, etc. on top of the whole of Works 8 at a time when Dell were trying to push Works 7 on unsuspecting customers for the same price.

        Oh, and I'd love to see your sources for that last claim given that you're not even aware of the product in between Works and Office.
        • Works 9...

          ... has its own word processor, which can interchange documents with Word.

          As shown by the examples in the feature list, Works is intended to be a home product.

          You're right about older versions, but Microsoft changed the product, I believe to encourage sales of the comparatively inexpensive Office version (which, by the way, comes without Outlook).
          Anton Philidor
          • So did Works 8, it still sucked.

            My point being, works doesn't sell well on its own because the works suite can be had for not much more (or the same price if you're canny) and is much, much better.

            Office Home and Student still costs more and doesn't come with Autoroute, Money, or Encarta.
    • Microsoft is giving everybody the works in more ways than one

      There is a lot of junk given out with a new PC but not everyone buys into wanting it, loading it or using it aside from maybe the select few that don't know any better. As usual MS is just trying out any avenues to generate revenues and I for one, Shakespeare, is not buying into it, free or otherwise.
  • Works... well, it works

    So much bitterness over Microsoft Works.

    Phil seems to me to be like the owner of a Ferrari who looks down on the guy driving a Focus. While the Focus doesn't have the horsepower or speed, it sure gets the job of taking the kids to school effeciently - and it's cheaper.

    Although personally I would not want to part with Office, and I use other programs that cost up to 12 times more than full blown office in my job as a design engineer, there is a task that I bypass Excell and Access to use Works. Why? It gets the job done much more effeciently for that task.

    My opinion is that the average computer user can do anything he or she needs to do in Works. Why get lost trying to figure out all the functions of a program that you don't need?

    Again, I say all of this while at the same time guarding my precious box of Office Pro.
    • No, it doesn't :)

      I used Works some in college when I got my first PC, a Packard Bell - I was strapped for cash, but slammed into the limits of Works almost immediately and bought the educational version of Ami Pro (remember when there used to be choice in the application world!?) to get my work done. You can't do anything remotely serious with Works.
    • I assume you are what you refer to as an average user ?

      Lack of money usually precedes lack of common sense but for those lacking in that and having nothing better to do with money or their PC's are free to use, abuse or whatever else they choose to do with Microsoft Works as they may be giving you the works in more ways than you think. Just a little fodder for the nodder to dwell on.
  • Target Market

    Works has its limitations, but I just don't agree that nobody uses it. It's used by casual computer users at home rather than in business environments, and for people who barely scratch the surface of capability in a full blown suite like MS Office, Word Perfect or Open Office, it works just fine. People like my parents, who aren't software savvy and have no need or desire to be, it is fine. If Works wasn't available as part of the base software package, perhaps they could offer Open Office in its place? But that is a bit overkill for the average home user. Corporate offices are still going to lean toward the full blown MS Office package simply because everyone else does.
  • Firestorm now, acceptance later

    When MS tried to implement product activation in Windows 2000, Windows users raised holy hell, and MS backed off. Then they snuck it into XP, a little bit. Some mumbling, but nothing big. Then they tightened the noose a bit with SP2. Not much mumbling at all. Now, Vista has WGA and tilt bits, phones home regularly to make sure you're still approved to run it by MS and can lock your computer down tighter than fort knox, and everyone praises MS for their strong anti-piracy stance.

    Ad/spyware MS Works is just the camel's nose. MS showed that Windows users will take it if you just do it a little at a time.
  • Unsubstantiated rubbish

    Could we have some facts to back up your assertions?

    The main reason people get Works is to use the Word processor and it's a bargain at the price. With over 90% global usage, Windows users are not just business users and blog writers - there is an immense amount of home use and a lot of people would prefer cheap software that works rather than shelling out for features they don't need.

    But hey keep making things up, opinions are so much better than actual research.
    • I get your point, you think MS Works is worth researching ?

      Personally, I can think of at least a dozen programs that I'd prefer to use but if you like it, use it but even for home, non business use, it would hardly be in my dreams as my first choice in either price or features. Did I say features, I meant lack of features and 90 percent global usage of MS WORKS must be in your dreams too.
  • Beta testing ad software in low-risk package

    They're probably beta testing their ad-supported software framework - the glue that sells, delivers, and charges for ads - with a low-risk, who-cares-if-it-bombs-out software package. They're going to use Works, a package which has no real value to them, as a platform to install and shake down this software so it will be robust when they use it for something that counts.
  • My first exposure to "Works" ...

    ... was when it shipped with my first Dell. Phil's right, the system came with Works + Word. Since my employer had an enterprse licencse for MS Office, I never used it!

    In order to make an entry-level "non-Office" office suite work, it has to be a "feature-poor" version of the "real thing" with full file compatibility. Works never did fill the bill.

    No one buys "just Excel" or "just Word" these days. The bottom line is that when someone buys a PC it needs to include some kind of basic productivity tools. Works never quite did the trick becuase it never was complete.
    M Wagner
    • I'd rather have the works on a hamburger

      I couldn't agree more, MS WORKS is incomplete as it leaves off in areas where it should begin but hey for those that like it, go for it as you may never be able to learn anything better. In so far as filling the bill, the bill would have to be either light or light headed to keep this program loaded for anyone aside from a kid needing to keep a record of phone listings or something to write a letter or two. Last time I checked a pen and paper work on about the same level but generally cost less, more affective and you won't have to buy or use a PC to use them.
      • Office vs Works

        My experience has been that I get many requests for help from people who are well versed in the particular line of work they are in but who are not well acquainted with the deeper aspects of computer use. My observation is that for what they do they don't need full blown office.

        I actually wish that I had more of a need to use the more high powered features of office because I would enjoy working with them on a daily basis.

        I wouldn't dream of recommending to some of my less tech-savvy friends to go and buy something that they will never use to the full when they can fill their needs with something simple.
  • Works...

    I've always used works products....It writes, spell checks..etc. Course i'm not a hi-brow with a masters degree that requires a hi end product. I also don't have money to throw out....I resent being thrifty being made to sound stupid.
    I also don't buy cell phones and ring tones like using toilet paper so I guess I'm a luddite! Nor do I buy a system a the drop of a hat...That' what's wrong with tech magazines and tech writers....technical tunnel vision!