Microsoft plans a brand-new edition of its forthcoming Office 2010 in a push to loosen customers' vice-like grip on old versions of its productivity suite an upgrade.
The company has announced Office 2010 Starter Edition, a functionally limited version of Office 2010. It will come pre-loaded on only new PCs and be will funded by advertising.
Crucially, Office 2010 will replace the ginger-haired child that is Microsoft Works and introduce customers to the Office features such as the ribbon interface "with a simple path to upgrade to a fully featured version of Office 2010 directly from within the product."
Office corporate vice president Takeshi Numoto blogged: "Office Starter 2010 will provide new PC owners with immediate exposure to the Office 2010 experience on new PCs right out of the box."
Microsoft is also streamlining the purchase experience for full versions of Office 2010. Brand new PCs will come pre-installed with Office 2010 Professional, Home and Student and Home and Business that will be unlocked and activated using a key card sold through "major electronic retail outlets".
The company did not say what OEM's PCs would be pre-installed with Office 2010 or what retailers would sell the product key cards. The card, though, will replace the need for customers to physically go out and buy and install DVD media on their machine.
Customers with an old PC, meanwhile, will be offered the opportunity to download Office 2010 through what Microsoft called Click-to-Run technology. Click-to-Run will provide updates and install Office 2010 in a virtual instance on the desktop along side your existing copy of Office.
Office 2010 is due for public beta later this year. As with versions of Office past, Microsoft's primary challenge will lay in convincing customers to ditch old versions of Office that are good enough for their needs.
Microsoft might well feel Starter Edition and Click-to-Run will provide the foot in the door Office 2010 needs to drive upgrades and conversions. It's not clear, though, why - once customers have the basic features in Starter Edition such as creating, viewing and editing - they would want to bother upgrading, as create, view and edit is what the vast majority of customers use a productivity suite for.
Microsoft did not provide further details, but it seems Microsoft will either rely on the presence and positioning of those ads to push people on to a paid and ads-free version, or use some other incentive such as limited-time availability or by restricting the features to make the suite impractical for use on a prolonged basis.
Microsoft said Wednesday Exchange Server 2010, the server email companion to Office's Outlook, is finished and ready for final release at next month's TechEd Europe conference. You can read more here. ®