After Microsoft released its detailed description of Windows on ARM (WOA) last week, there has been some speculation as to the pre-installed Office 15 apps. Essentially, will they be free, or will they each have their own pricetag, or will users be required to purchase the entire Office 15 suite?
As previously reported, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Division, said that the Metro-styled Office 15 apps -- Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint -- will be full-fledged desktop versions that are "significantly architected" for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption.
"They're claiming it's a full version of Office, but that it's a 'consumer version,'" said Michael Silver of Gartner, who was briefed by Microsoft. "But we're not sure what that means." Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC who was also briefed by Microsoft last week, added that there will be some level of capability to those Office apps, "but what we don't know is who pays for it."
Consumers who have purchased a Windows 7-based desktop or laptop within the last few years have likely received Microsoft Office Starter 2010 pre-installed. Underneath this ad-supported bare-bones edition lies the full version of Office 2010, tucked away on a special partition on the hard drive. Upon launching Office Starter 2010, users are greeted with a popup asking to activate Office 2010 if purchased, to go online an purchase Office 2010, or to use Office Starter 2010.
That said, this will probably be the same scenario with both Windows 8 and Windows on ARM: Office 15 will be pre-installed with limited functionality until the users purchase the full suite and enters the activation code. This is of course just an assumption, but one based on Microsoft's current distribution method with Windows 7 machines. Keep in mind that Windows on ARM won't be available commercially, but will come installed on ARM-based devices only.
Silver said he asked Microsoft directly if the Office 15 apps in WOA represented Starter versions. The Redmond company replied no, insisting that they were full versions. Silver then pointed out that even Microsoft's denial gives it room to call the apps something other than "Starter" while still using the ad-supported bare-bones model.
"What they wouldn't say is how they're going to monetize it," Silver added.
As many other analysts have pointed out, a full version of Office 2015 will likely never be free... at least, not in the immediate future. "Office is too important a product," said Paul DeGroot, formerly an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, now a principal with Pica Communications. "Microsoft can't afford to give away that licensing revenue stream. They may do that at some point, but it's too early."