Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/2/2007
03:24 PM
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Who Needs A Free Version Of Works?

One of the informal rules of computing, as recognized by most of my friends and colleagues (at least, those who know anything about the subject), is: Thou Shalt Avoid Microsoft Works. The suite, which is presumably directed toward consumers, hasn't been really useful for anything but the most elementary tasks for years now. It's a suite with training wheels.

One of the informal rules of computing, as recognized by most of my friends and colleagues (at least, those who know anything about the subject), is: Thou Shalt Avoid Microsoft Works. The suite, which is presumably directed toward consumers, hasn't been really useful for anything but the most elementary tasks for years now. It's a suite with training wheels.There are so many alternatives these days that the only question should be how fast it takes you to uninstall Works from your new system. If you need a commercial product but find the multiple versions of Microsoft Office too confusing, there are packages such as Corel WordPerfect Office. If you'd rather not pay anything for your software, there are quality open-source apps like OpenOffice. If you don't mind working online, you can choose from individual apps such as Google's Docs & Spreadsheets or an online suite such as Zoho.

With all these interesting apps available, my assumption was that Microsoft would take the hint and allow Works to slowly fade away, to be dug up by curious six-year-olds who wanted to check out what was on Grandpa's computer, or by sociologists studying the phenomenon of dumbed-down software. But I was underestimating Microsoft's tendency to try to keep its properties in the public consciousness.

According to a recent news story, Microsoft is planning to offer a free, ad-supported version of Works in selected countries. So I'm trying to figure out why Microsoft's people would think that scads of eager users would want to download an already low-productivity app with advertising added.

Well, if consumers aren't looking for a less-expensive version of Works, I'll bet Microsoft's hardware partners are. According to the article, Works 8.5 costs about $50; while it probably costs manufacturers a lot less to load it onto their new PCs, it can still add up over several thousand systems. With the ability to load a fully-free version of a Microsoft application, vendors can subtract a few dollars from their costs without affected the perceived value of the product.

So when you get your spanking new Vista-capable machine next year, odds are that it will include a spanking new version of Works that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, calendar -- and advertising. Enjoy.

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