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More details on Microsoft's free Office

Microsoft's Chris Capossela details what--and what not--to expect with Office Starter 2010, the Works replacement that will start showing up on new PCs later this year.

Microsoft has said that, starting with Office 2010, it will allow computer makers to bundle in a limited version of the product onto new PCs. However Microsoft has shared relatively little about Office Starter 2010, the product that will replace Works at the low-end of Microsoft's productivity lineup.

Over lunch on Wednesday, Chris Capossela, a senior vice president at Microsoft, shared a little more about what users can expect when they open up Office Starter.

Chris Capossela
Chris Capossela, a senior vice president at Microsoft, has shared a little more about what users can expect when they open up Office Starter. Microsoft

As previously detailed, the product includes scaled-down versions of Word and Excel and is free for consumers, but does include advertising. Capossela said that the ads will change every 45 seconds, but for the foreseeable future the pitches will all be for Office itself. The ads will never be based on the content of one's document, he said.

"There's no scanning of the document," he said, a clear dig at rival Google. Instead the ads will say things like "Don't you miss PowerPoint" and encourage people to upgrade.

As for what users can do with the applications, Capossela said that Word will be capable of opening and displaying even the most complex documents. However, Office Starter users won't be able to use macros, create automated tables of contents, or add comments, though they will see comments added by others.

The approach with Excel is similar, with users able to view and edit documents, but not create their own pivot tables and pivot charts, for example.

Those who want more features--or to use of PowerPoint--will have to upgrade to a paid version of the product. Microsoft is also trying to ease that process, including all the code for Office 2010 on new PCs and allowing the other programs and features to be unlocked through the purchase of a new product key card.

The software maker envisions that over a short time more than 80 percent of new PCs will have Office Starter, though Capossela said on Wednesday that it will be up to computer makers how quickly PCs sold at retail have that product, as opposed to the current combination of Works and a trial version of Office 2007. He said that some PCs with the older software will probably be on shelves through the fall.

Microsoft is making a big bet with Office Starter. Although the company got comparatively little revenue from Works, which Office Starter replaces, the danger is that some users that would have paid for Office will settle for either Starter, the free browser-based Office Web Apps, or some combination of the two.

The company has been exploring the idea of an ad-funded productivity suite for years and did quietly introduce an ad-funded version of Works.

I'll have much more from my lunch with Capossela in a follow-up post Thursday morning.