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Office 2010 Rolled Out to Consumers

Microsoft today released Office 2010 worldwide, with the product now available at both online and retail stores.

Office 2010 was released to business customers in May, but Microsoft has pulled out the stops to convince consumers to buy its newest productivity suite. Enticements include a free trial download, a free e-book, demos on the product's new features for use both at work and at home, plus a Twitter comment feed.

Consumers apparently love Office. It's one of the few boxed software success stories in retail stores, according to J.P. Gownder, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. The Office suite is used regularly by about "67 percent of U.S. online consumers," according to Forrester. Gownder dismissed the challenge posed by the free Google Apps online productivity tools, asserting that "many consumers would rather purchase or pirate Office than use free Google Docs." He called Google Docs "a failure," with just four percent of consumer use after more than three years.

Microsoft's apparent answer to Google is Office Web Apps, which are trimmed-down versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint that run in a browser. The free Windows Live version of Office Web Apps was released last week to mixed reviews. For instance, a "coauthoring" document-collaboration feature is available in the Excel Web App and OneNote Web App for both businesses (via SharePoint) and consumers (via Windows Live). However, users currently need an installed client application to tap into the coauthoring capability for Word 2010 and PowerPoint 2010. Other basic functions in Office Web Apps for Windows Live simply don't work yet.

Microsoft plans to charge business users to use a managed version of Office Web Apps, either by selling them on the Microsoft stack (Office 2010, Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010) or having them subscribe to a service for a recurring monthly fee.

Clearly, Microsoft would like to nudge businesses toward upgrading from older versions of Office. The ability of organizations to support mobile workers with Office Web Apps may be one component to that strategy. However, enlisting consumer enthusiasm also will be key.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office Business Productivity Group, told UBS financial analysts last week that Microsoft gets 80 percent of its Office revenues from enterprise users, with 20 percent coming from consumers. However, those 20 percent of consumer users will be valuable in "pushing their companies to upgrade."

In addition to introducing consumers to Office 2010 through a free trial and free Office Web Apps on Windows Live, Microsoft plans to distribute an ad-supported Office Starter 2010 edition with new PCs. Office Starter was supposed to be available sometime this year, although it's not clear when that will be. In its latest announcement on Tuesday, Microsoft appears to expect a big launch in 2011.

"In the next year, more than 100 million PCs will ship with Office 2010 preloaded, which can easily by activated with the purchase of any one of the three versions of Office 2010, including Office Home and Student 2010, Office Home and Business 2010, or Office Professional 2010," a Microsoft press release stated.

Office Starter will include limited versions of Word and Excel, replacing the Microsoft Works product that also was distributed with new PCs. However, the difference this time is that Office Starter will enable consumers to quickly upgrade to full versions of the product. The upgrade process is speeded up because of a new "click-to-run" technology and because some of the bits of the full product are preloaded on the machine. Users can purchase an upgrade online or get a product key card to unlock the bits. The product key cards will be sold through Microsoft's retail store partners.

Microsoft has a number of new features in Office 2010, but the consumer appeal may come from a social connector in Outlook, video broadcasting through PowerPoint and a photo-editing capability in Word, among others. The platform for Office 2010 is being extended to phones too. Office Mobile 2010 will run on Windows Mobile 6.5-based phones, enabling lightweight editing of Office documents.

The Microsoft Store online currently lists the following prices: Office Home and Student 2010 at $149.99; Office Home and Business 2010 at $279.99; and Office Professional 2010 at $499.99.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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