30 November 2010

Office Starter 2010

By Andrew Clifford

Office Starter 2010 may tempt some people away from the full paid-for version of Office and away from free alternatives such as OpenOffice.org.

I am a die hard user of free and open source software. I have been using OpenOffice.org exclusively for more than five years. I have written about how I would never turn back to proprietary software.

It has therefore come as a great shock to me to find myself increasingly using Office 2010, albeit only the free starter edition.

Office 2010 starter edition is preinstalled on many new Windows PCs, along with the means to upgrade to the full paid-for version. It serves two purposes. Its main purpose as far as Microsoft is concerned is to encourage people to purchase the full version of Office. It also serves as a replacement for Microsoft Works.

Office Starter 2010 includes only Word Starter and Excel Starter (so no Outlook or PowerPoint). They are surprisingly fully-featured, lacking only advanced features such as tracking changes in Word, and pivot tables and macros in Excel. They are free to use, and do not have a time limit. They do show adverts, typically for Microsoft Office, down in the bottom right.

Microsoft are careful in how they position Office Starter to resellers. They point out that Office 2010 is only likely to meet the full needs of some home users, not businesses or anyone used to the full office suites.

Why, then, have I started using them? Mostly it comes down to laziness.

Although we use OpenOffice.org internally, our customers and partners tend to use Microsoft Office. Although we can read and edit Microsoft Office documents in OpenOffice.org, out of laziness I had not changed file associations on my PC, and Word and Excel documents automatically open in Office Starter. However, Office Starter has the great advantage that I can save documents using the newer office formats (.docx and .xlsx), whereas OpenOffice.org can only write the old formats (.doc and .xls). This means that I am more confident that the changes and formatting that I make can be read again by others.

There are other things that tempt me to use Office 2010 Starter Edition rather than OpenOffice.org. It can now read and write the file formats used by OpenOffice.org and other suites (.odt and .ods files). Also, on Windows 7, my version of OpenOffice.org seems to have serious problems with pasting into other programs. This type of problem tends to get fixed quickly in open source programs, but for now I simply have to use Office 2010 Starter for some things because OpenOffice.org is broken.

So, by a combination of laziness, simplicity and desperation, I have started using Office 2010. I am even beginning to find my way around the new ribbon bar, which is initially daunting to anyone coming from other office suites.

I can not see myself rushing out to buy a full copy of Microsoft Office, and I do still use OpenOffice.org for most things. But Microsoft must have done something clever with Office Starter to tempt me away from my beloved open source software.