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Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Is Not Worth The Price

Now that Microsoft Office 2010 has hit the streets, new netbooks and notebooks will no longer come with Microsoft Works and a limited free trial of the Office suite. Instead, users will have the option to purchase or activate one of the full versions of the program or roll with the pre-installed Starter edition.

We’ve known for a while that this was coming and that Starter would have some limitations. I myself predicted that this “choice” would send consumers running for free alternatives like OpenOffice. After having used Starter, I’m sure of it.

Office 2010’s Starter Edition is meant to give users a taste of the new suite while taking away enough features to ensure they’ll want to upgrade. The moving ad in the corner, the even more annoying ribbon on top (I know, I didn’t think it could get more annoying, either), and the sidebar taking up way too much space in my work window are definitely enough to annoy me away from the program. Then there are these lists of all the things Word Starter and Excel Starter won’t do. My favorites:

  • No Ribbon customizations
  • No footnotes/endnotes
  • No citations or bibliography
  • No comments
  • No Track Changes
  • No document protection
  • No PivotTables/Pivot Charts
  • No connections to external data
  • No changing column and row headings

There are a few other differences to note here. Users can still open documents with these and other features, but Starter won’t create or modify any of them. It’s like Microsoft took a list of things students were most likely to need and made sure to hamper or disable them all.

The most annoying aspect in my eyes is the sidebar on the right. It takes up a lot of pixels. So many that, when on a standard 1024 x 600 netbook screen, there isn’t always enough room to see a full page horizontally at 100 percent zoom. You have to take it down to 90 percent unless you like wider margins.

This sidebar is persistent because that’s where the ad unit is. Right now it appears to only run Microsoft ads, though that will change soon, I'm sure. Thing is, the MS ads are bad enough -- they won’t stop moving. The animation is limited to slides that change too often right now, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence for the company’s ad quality control. Are we going to get animated ads next? Will random music start playing?

This, of course, distracts from whatever you’re trying to do. In a word processor, it’s a safe bet you’re likely writing. Try concentrating on that with an ever changing image in the corner annoying you for attention every 3 seconds.

Via this ad I learned that right now Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student is only $119, down from $149. That’s nice to know. However, if I’m a college kid on a budget, or the parent of a college kid on a budget, or just a person in the world on a budget, and I’ve just paid hundreds of dollars for a computer, I might not have $119 for an office suite. Especially if the computer in question is a secondary device, like a netbook.

If I were the people behind OpenOffice.org I would find some way to scrounge up the money to advertise the fact that your product offers far, far more functionality than Office 2010 Starter but is just as free. And doesn’t come with ads! There’s a huge opportunity here, especially with the Back to School season around the corner.

I’d offer the same advice to Mozilla, who really hasn’t done enough to promote Thunderbird 3.0 as a viable alternative to Outlook for consumers and businesses.

My advice? Don’t even bother with Starter if you don’t intend to buy the full version of Office 2010. Just download OpenOffice and get on with life. If you’re not a fan of OpenOffice, you’d still be better off finding inexpensive (and unopened) older versions of Office still lingering on the Internet then settling for this free alternative.