Microsoft dumps Office Starter from PC maker choices

Compatibility problems with upcoming Windows 8 root of demise

Microsoft is dumping its Office Starter edition as Windows 8 and the next edition of the suite, dubbed Office 2013, near completion and release later this year and early next.

The company blamed a "bad user experience" in Windows 8 for the move.

ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley first reported on the demise of Office Starter 2010 earlier on Thursday.

Office Starter 2010, which Microsoft created in 2009, was the company's replacement for Microsoft Works, an entry-level application suite that had been offered to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for bundling with new PCs.

Starter included Word 2010 and Excel 2010. As Microsoft's free OEM offer, Starter was to give new PC buyers a taste of the full suite in the hope that they would later pony up for one of the paid editions, such as the $150 Office Home and Student 2010, or the $280 Office Home and Business 2010.

Office Starter 2010 also included advertisements, the first edition of Microsoft's market-leading desktop suite to do that, and also limited the functionality of Word and Excel. They were not time-sensitive versions, however, as Office trial editions have been.

Microsoft currently offers 60-day trials of Office that can be downloaded from its website.

But Microsoft is putting Office Starter 2010 to rest, and has told OEMs to switch to new tools for factory-installation of Microsoft software on new Windows 7 PCs. The new tools, which Microsoft has labeled "Office 2010 Transition OEM Preinstallation Kit," or OPK, do away with Office Starter 2010.

"The Office 2010 Transition OPK does not contain Office Starter 2010," documentation published on Microsoft's website stated.

The same kit also can be used to install Security Essentials, Microsoft's free consumer-grade antivirus software, as well as complete editions of Office 2010.

In the same documentation, Microsoft "strongly" recommended to OEMs that they use the new tools to install Office on PCs running Windows 7, and warned them that the OPK will be "required on all Microsoft Windows 8 PC builds."

While Microsoft has not disclosed a ship date for Office 2013, it's expected to go on sale after the launch of Windows 8; for at least several months, OEMs will have to load their machines with Office 2010, not the new Office 2013.

"OPK versions prior to the Office 2010 Transition OPK installed on Windows 8 PCs may create a bad user experience for Office Starter 2010," Microsoft added in explaining why it yanked Office Starter 2010.

People who have purchased new Windows 7 PCs with Office Starter 2010 will be alerted about a necessary update if they later upgrade their machine to Windows 8. The patch will be pushed to affected PCs using Windows Update.

Foley said her sources reported that Microsoft would push Office Web Apps -- the free online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that rely on a scaled-back subset of the desktop versions' features -- as the replacement for Office Starter 2010.

Microsoft did not reply to a request for confirmation of the demise of Office Starter 2010, or to questions about what, if anything, may replace it for OEMs.

A public beta of Office 2013 -- codenamed "Office 15" previously -- is to be available some time this summer, Microsoft said earlier this year. The company has yet to provide information about the suite, including its price, exact sale date, the number of editions that will be sold or their contents.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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