On the ZDNet website, Microsoft reporter extraordinaire Mary-Jo Foley has a few items about the replacement for Microsoft Works, called Office Starter 2010.

Microsoft Works was a small suite of programs that was not perfect, but it was usually free with many computers, and continuing in that tradition, Office Starter 2010 will be part of a computer purchase also. However, Works could be bought by the end user, which the Office Starter edition will not be. Office Starter will be ad supported, and I wonder how annoying that will be for users, especially those who are on less than stellar internet connections. Waiting for an ad to finish because of a slow connection, while trying to do something with the machine such as save the file would really not be fun.

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:

I think this will be very bad for any company or individual trying to use Office Starter 2010 on their netbook, either because of cost or drive space requirements of a full Office 2010 version. Having something that works on the desktop in the office, and not in the netbook on the road would be very frustrating. I imagine the travelling salesman here, trying to show a prospective buyer something that works fine before the trip, but is a total dud on the crippled version of Office Starter.

Microsoft is really shafting the customer here twice. Once by making him wait and wade through ads, and the second time by delivering a crippled product after making the ads a part of this. Do one or the other, not both.

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?

I don’t live and die by Office, but those I know who do, first don’t like Office 2007, and I’m thinking that Office 2010 will be less a plus as it moves away from the Office 2003 methods more.

Also, each revision of Open Office gets more and more close to closing the gap with Office for everyday jobs. It is free, lightweight, and has no cost or ad-viewing limitations. It’s macros, though not as sophisticated as the ones for Office from Microsoft, do work, and the difference in annoyance between ads and no ads will make a huge difference in the day-to-day usage of the product.

Higher powered netbooks (can you say ION?) and notebooks, as well as desktops where monetary resources are not tight, will either get a full version of Office, or use something else.

Where does that leave Office Starter 2010? The people who will be happy with it are those who don’t know any better, either having nothing before, or truly moving from Works to this product; every other user will look elsewhere for a much better solution.

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