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10/9/2009
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Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
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Will Microsoft's Free Office Starter 2010 Be Enough For Small Businesses?

Microsoft is coming out with a new ad-supported version of Office to replace Microsoft Works. Will it offer enough functionality to challenge Google Docs and Open Office -- or let small businesses avoid paying for the full-blown version of Office?

Microsoft is coming out with a new ad-supported version of Office to replace Microsoft Works. Will it offer enough functionality to challenge Google Docs and Open Office -- or let small businesses avoid paying for the full-blown version of Office?Don't Miss: Microsoft Office 'Adware Edition' Replaces MS Works

Sorry, but at first blush the answer seems to be "NO."

For one thing, Office Starter 2010 will inlcude only Word and Excel functionality, not PowerPoint, Outlook, or the rest of the full Office suite.

Second, Office Starter 2010 is expected to be largely distributed pre-loaded onto new computers, not as freely downloadable software. (For that, there's Office Web, with online versions of Word, PowerPoint, and the OneNote message pad.)

And third, we don't yet know how intrusive Office Starter's"adware" elements will be. Competing free productivity suites -- from Google Docs to Open Office to Zoho to IBM's Symphony -- don't compromise the user experience with ads. And while they may not have all the features of Office, they are compatible with Office file formats and typically include the complement of applications.

Instead, Microsoft is using Office Starter 2010 to encourage upgrades to the full -- paid -- versions of Office (which will also be pre-installed on those same computers). It's also an excuse to retire Microsoft Works, always the poor, redheaded, stepchild of its application lineup. No one will miss Works, I'll wager, and Office Starter won't force anyone to learn a second user interface.

But even very small businesses are likely to need more than Office Starter 2010 provides. Which is exactly the way Microsoft wants it.

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