The announcement means the end of Works, the neglected stepchild of the Office family that Microsoft kept in the basement for some 20 years. Often preinstalled on home PCs, Works was a decent productivity tool for basic chores, like family budgeting and homework assignments. It had its quirks, however, such as forcing you to save a document in the Works format, even if the file had previously been saved in another format.
According to a video on the Microsoft Office blog, Redmond decided two years ago to develop Office Starter, which explains why Works, with its Office 2003-era interface, had been ignored for so long.
The new Office Starter 2010 will come preinstalled on many new Windows PCs. Works will go away, as will those annoying "trial editions" of Office. And unlike the trial versions, Office Starter won't have an expiration date. You'll be able to use it as long as you like.
But Wait, There's Less
As you'd expect, Starter is a crippled version of Office 2010. It contains just two "reduced-functionality" apps -- Word Starter and Excel Starter -- that are designed for Works-style home chores, such as writing recipes and newsletters.
What else is missing? Office Starter 2010 doesn't including Outlook, OneNote, or PowerPoint. That's bad news for professionals hoping to, say, complete a presentation at home over the weekend.
Microsoft says upgrading to the full Office will be a snap. Example: If Starter 2010 is preinstalled on your computer, you'll be able to buy a Product Key Card (at retail outlets), enter the key number in your PC, and unlock the full Office program.
Starter 2010, unlike Works, has an up-to-date interface, including the Office ribbon that isn't universally loved by all who use it.
What About Those Ads?
Ugh, advertisements have come to Office. At the bottom of Starter 2010's Task Pane, a right column with links to a Getting Started guide, clip art, and templates, you'll find an ad window. It's unclear what type of ads Microsoft will funnel there, but hopefully it'll avoid flashing text, dancing homeowners, and similarly annoying fare. The message here to users is clear: To lose the ads, cough up more dough. (To be fair, an upgrade buys more features and apps too.)
Clearly, Microsoft is seeking new ways to monetize Office. The ad window in Starter 2010 is a strong indication that Redmond will try a similar strategy with Office Web Apps, its upcoming cloud-based productivity suite built to compete with online competitors like Google Docs, which is becoming popular among business users.
One thing's for sure: Few among us will miss Microsoft Works, which never got the care and feeding it needed to become a top-notch home productivity app.