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Microsoft hints at another cheap Office option

Looking closely at a Thursday blog post, it appears that Microsoft is readying a lower-cost option for Office Home and Student productivity suite.

In addition to the bare-bones Office 2010 Starter that will come bundled on many new PCs, starting next year, Microsoft looks to have another low-cost option up its sleeve.

As part of the announcement of Office Starter on Thursday, Microsoft said consumers will be able to go to retailers and get a "product key card" with a code to upgrade to a full version of Office, such as the Home and Student, Home and Business, and Professional versions.


If you look closely at the image for the Office Home and Student card, it says "for one preloaded PC only." Now, typically, Office Home and Student is licensed for up to three PCs. That means that this card, which is good for only one PC, has the potential to be cheaper than the standard retail package, which includes a DVD copy and is good for three computers.

Microsoft isn't talking licensing details yet for Home and Student, but I'm told by those in the know that my logic is correct. Office 2010, in all its versions, is set to debut next year, with a beta test version of the product due later this year.

The software maker is clearly looking for as many ways as possible to put the latest version of Office in the hands of those willing to be legitimate users. In addition to the client-based Office 2010 versions, Microsoft also plans its Office Web Applications, browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Those products will be free and ad-supported for consumers, offered as part of Windows Live.

The other interesting part of Thursday's announcement is the "click to run" download method, which allows users to download Office over the Web but quickly get started before all the code has run. That method uses application virtualization. A side benefit is that such an installation can constantly be checking for updates and keeping itself current.

Although Vice President Takeshi Numoto told CNET yesterday that Microsoft had nothing new to announce on the subscription front, the click-to-run approach would seem an excellent technology to use to power a subscription version of Office (or any other Microsoft product, for that matter).

There was a subscription version of Office 2007, dubbed Equitpt, but that product also came bundled with Windows Live OneCare and was scrapped, as Microsoft discontinued OneCare.

Microsoft has spent years looking for new ways to sell Office, exploring everything from ad-funded software to prepaid cards good for a certain number of months of Office use.