Fast Company

How a $2 Version of Microsoft Office 2010 Could Cost More Than $100, Eat Up New PC Memory

OEM ms office 2010

Calm yourselves, Microsoft Office fans--the new version for 2010 isn't due for launch until tomorrow. Until then you can amuse yourselves with info on how MS is manhandling, shoehorning, and maneuvering to make the launch a success.

Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet has managed to get the skinny on Office 2010 from an authorized reseller, meaning the info is coming from the horse's mouth. And while some of the MS marketing strategies are pretty typical for this sort of grand-scale global product launch, some of the tactics may make you wish the horse had brushed its teeth before speaking out loud.

Microsoft, as you may have guessed, sells its products to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs--the Dells and the Asus's of the world) for a knock-down price in order to get users hooked on the products, and banking on bulk sales numbering in the millions to generate a profit back in Redmond. That's pretty standard marketing, but did you know that OEMs will pay as little as $2 per installation for a combined MS code chunk that includes Office 2010 Starter? That Office version is a very basic implementation of the code, allowing only elementary editing of Word and Excel files and designed to get end users interested and keen to step-up to the full Office suite. It's also ad-supported in this most stripped-down of versions.

So far, so understandable...but in order to achieve that $2 price point, OEMs must also install the full "PC Essentials" package from Microsoft. That includes Office Starter alongside Windows Live Essentials--Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, and so on--as well as the Bing search bar, and requires the OEM to set the browser to default to Bing for search as well as having MSN as the homepage. Then there's the weird Office 2010 Product Key Card. This is a piece of plastic that gives the activation code for a pre-installed version of Office 2010, requiring consumers to buy access--Amazon lists the Student Edition at $119.99--to files that are pre-loaded, which eat up hundreds of megabytes of their new PC's hard drive space.

Does any of this strike you as overly complex, and tainted with an unhealthy dose of Microsoft money-grabbingness? Is that pre-installed Office 2010 maneuver a marketing trick so that MS can claim outrageous market penetration in terms of copy installations...despite the fact that only a small percentage of them are actually activated? And dare I throw in a risky and contentious point of comparison here: Apple's iWork suite. This business productivity package comes in a single one-size-fits-all variety, and if you choose to download the trial suite from Apple's servers to your new Mac, it works 100% as if it were the full package for 30 days. At that point you can hand over the cash, delete it from your machine, or continue using it crippled, so it can't save or print out. No ads, no multiple versions, no complexity, no nagging suspicion that the company is hoodwinking the general public with its software.

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