Office 2010 Public Beta
Office for Consumers: Starter Edition & Click-2-Run

In my Office 2010 Preview, I mentioned some of the new product editions that Microsoft will be delivering to customers in this version of its venerable office productivity suite. Among them is Office 2010 Starter edition, which will replace Microsoft Works and only be provided to customers who purchase new PCs. This week, Microsoft surprised me by providing a downloadable Beta version of Office 2010 Starter, which also has the distinction of being the first public vehicle for Click-2-Run, Microsoft's new virtualization-based software deployment tool. (Click-2-Run was also discussed in the Office 2010 Preview article). So there are a number of things going on here.

"Many people don't think of Office outside of work, Justin Hutchinson, the Director of Product Management for Consumer Office said in a briefing last month. "But 250 million people use Office at home. Half of all adults in the US use it at home. It's hugely popular with students. Office it's just a tool for work, it's a tool for your entire life.

With this in mind, Microsoft is pushing two major consumer initiatives in Office 2010, Office Starter and Click-2-Run. "We're making Office simpler to buy and try," Hutchinson said.


Office 2010 Starter is pretty straightforward. It offers ad-supported, limited (but not trial) versions of just Word and Excel and will be sold with new PCs only. And while that may sound slightly disappointing, remember that this product replaces Microsoft Works, providing a true Office experience. More important, perhaps, it also provides easy ways to upgrade to more compelling Office product editions.

"Office Starter is a great solution," Hutchinson said. "Most people want a productivity experience out of the box with a new PC, and this delivers on that. It lets you create and edit basic documents. It contains the ribbon, so it's a great onramp to the full Office experience. And it's designed for people using Works--and there are tens of millions of people doing so today--people with basic needs."

Comparing the Starter versions of Word and Excel to the normal versions, you'll see a couple of obvious differences. Microsoft says that Office Starter retains the Office 2010 look and feel, but that's not the case, at least not in the Beta, which offers the pale blue look of Office 2007. The ribbon is there, but simplified. In Word 2010, for example, you get 7 ribbon tabs by default, but Word 2010 Starter offers just 4 (Reference, View, and Review are missing). There's a fixed task pane on the right, and you can't move it or remove it. This task pane includes some links--Get Started, Do More, and Get More--as well as a square, web-like ad in the lower right.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta
The ribbon UI from Word 2010 Starter (top) and Word 2010 (bottom) compared.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Also unique to the Office Starter apps is a Purchase link in the upper right of the ribbon. From there you will be able to eventually upgrade to better Office versions electronically.

"These are basic productivity solutions," Hutchinson said, noting that the types of things you can't do--like creating a table of contents, multi-author reviewing, Smart Art, bibliography, and the like in Word Starter--are typically needed only by more sophisticated users in work situations. And sure enough, even for my own (non-book) needs, Word Starter fits the bill. I've been using it exclusively for a few weeks now, actually.

As for Click-2-Run, this Office installation solution is based on Microsoft's enterprise-oriented Application Virtualization (App-V) technology. "20 million people visit office.com every year and download trial versions of our software," Hutchinson said. "And it takes 20 to 50 minutes to download a trial Office version on a typical broadband connection. That's too long."

Click-2-Run makes this experience faster and better. It presents a streaming virtualized copy of Office to the PC, allowing users to get up and running more quickly than before. Best of all, because the applications are virtualized, they're continuously up-to-date, automatically, and can be run side-by-side with older Office versions. "People are scared to install new Office versions because they're not sure what to do with their old version," Hutchinson said. "With Click-2-Run, Office 2010 only takes about two to three minutes for the initial download, and then you can start running the first application." In the background, the rest of the suite downloads and installs as you do other things.

Click-2-Run will be used for purchases, too: Microsoft will also make purchasable versions of various Office 2010 product editions available from the Microsoft Store online.

One final aspect of Click-2-Run is its ability to create a so-called Office To-Go Device, which is usually a USB memory key. Basically, instead of installing Office on your hard drive, you can install it to a USB device and run it from there. This will work from any compatible PC (Vista or higher), thanks to the self-contained nature of the virtualized environment is uses. When you run the Office executable on the device--a single file--you're presented with a front-end dashboard showing each of the available applications. It's unclear at this time how Microsoft will handle authorization. Perhaps it will just be relegated to Starter, which is essentially free anyway.

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta

Continue to Part 4: Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint