MS Office Starter Sports Ads, OpenOffice People Ecstatic

Microsoft announced Wednesday that they will no longer bundle the Microsoft Works suite with new PCs. Instead,  they will come with MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, a still free but now ad-supported basic version of Office. Instead of getting a 60-day trial plus MS Works with new PCs, users will just get this one suite/experience. Starter will only come with Word and Excel, but if users want to upgrade to a full-fledged version of Office they need only purchase a Product Key Card to activate it.

While I agree with Barbara Krasnoff of Computer World that Works is a "badly conceived and badly managed home applications suite." However, I don't know that getting rid of it altogether is the best idea for Microsoft. Or rather, I don't think Starter Edition is the right replacement for it.

Works usually included more programs than just a word processor and a spreadsheet and usually did not include advertising. Giving users a glimpse of the Office 2010 experience may prompt them to buy the paid version for fuller functionality and no ads. But if I had to choose between a program that cost $150 or more and one that did less and flashed ads at me, I would look for a third option. One exists, of course: OpenOffice.

OpenOffice is not perfect, but it's free, doesn't have ads, and includes presentation, database, and drawing software in addition to word processing and spreadsheets. (To replace Outlook you'll need to turn to Mozilla's Thunderbird.) Anyone who can get by with MS Works or Office Starter is better off with OpenOffice, though I'm sure there are many users who would have continued to use Works if it came bundled with their PCs. That will be true in some cases for Starter. Still, how many will be tuned off by the ads and go looking for free (and non-web based) alternatives?