Microsoft To Offer Free Version Of Office 2010

In a Wednesday blog post, Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president for Office, said Microsoft's goal with Office Starter 2010 edition is to expose new PC buyers to Office 2010 as soon as they turn on their machines.

Those who like what they see in Office Starter 2010 can buy a product key card from one of Microsoft's retail partners and upgrade to one of the three full versions: Office Home & Student 2010, Office Home & Business 2010, or Office Professional 2010. For existing Office customers, Microsoft is offering a virtualization technology called Click To Run, which allows users to download the Office 2010 trial and run it alongside their existing version, according to Numoto.

Office 2007 hasn't exactly seen roaring adoption, and the major user interface changes it included were a big reason why. But that's not stopping Microsoft from suggesting otherwise: Between July 2008 and June of this year, Office 2007 had 23 million downloads, representing year-on-year growth of 92 percent.

In Office 2010, Microsoft has responded to users' complaints over how hard it was to find basic commands with the Ribbon's UI. Office 2010 also enables collaboration features when combined with SharePoint Server 2010 or Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services running on the back end.

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That's a winning combination, and one that Microsoft can use to combat the threat of free Office productivity software rivals, says Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner.

"The real differentiation for Office as a platform is all the back end functionality. Office plus Sharepoint is compelling and it's a real platform for delivery that often gets overlooked," he said.