This week, Microsoft reportedly notified OEM PC partners that it's beginning to phase out Office Starter 2010. In fact, the Starter edition -- which offers a stripped-down, ad-laced version of Word and Excel -- will be nuked altogether, replaced by Office Web Apps going forward. These apps are the Internet-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote originally announced back in 2008.
"We will begin to phase out the shipment of PCs with Office Starter 2010," a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed. "After Windows 8 becomes available, most new PCs shipped will not have Office Starter. People who use Office Starter 2010 today will continue to be able to use the product for the life of their PC. For Windows7/Office Starter 2010 users who want to upgrade their PC to Windows 8 and continue using Office Starter 2010, they will have to install an update to Microsoft Office 2010 which is available today."
Up until now, OEM desktops and laptops typically came with Office 2010 preloaded: consumers have access to the Starter "demo" edition while the installation files for the full-blown version resides on a special partition. Microsoft was hoping that users would grow tired of the limitations and purchase a key for the full suite, but that scheme didn't pan out as hoped -- free tools made available online by the likes of Google and OpenOffice certainly didn't help.
Microsoft made Office Starter 2010 available to OEMs and system builders as part of an OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK). However this week Microsoft has introduced a new "Office 2010 Transition OPK" that doesn't contain Office Starter 2010.
"Effective immediately, the Office 2010 Transition OPK replaces prior versions of the Office 2010 OPK," Microsoft states. "The website for OEMs to order Starter licenses is now disabled, and all of the links from the Office OPK pages have been pulled. The 'Transition OPK' is now the only download available,” said one of my contacts, who requested anonymity."
According to unnamed sources, Microsoft is beefing up Office Web Apps "significantly" with the release of Office 2013 (aka Office 15). Little else is known about the online suite although the latest rumor is that there will also be a new Office Web Apps Server coming as part of the Office 2013 release.
A public beta of Office 2013 -- the client apps, the server apps and the services -- is expected to land sometime in the next few weeks.