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Microsoft pushes Office 2007 with 'try-before-you-buy'

Limited use, certain risk

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WPC Microsoft is shipping limited-use copies of Office 2007 with PCs in a try-before-you-buy scheme to seed the market with its latest suite and drive Windows server and client software sales.

The company has revealed its Office Ready PC Program, where partners pre install images of Office 2007 on new machines and allow end-users to purchase the full suite through a product activation key after a 60-day trial.

Chris Capossela, vice president of Microsoft's business division product management group, portrayed the program at the company's worldwide partner conference as providing "more touch points" for OEMs and system builders to engage with customers and to make money. The product activation key would be sold after the PC shipped.

"As that machine is moving through the channel, you have multiple attach points to sell Office by selling an actual key that unlocks the image you've pre-installed," Capossela said.

He was optimistic users would click to purchase as late as the sixtieth day of trial. However, this is a risky and unproven strategy that goes against a new industry move and could turn users from apathy to anger over the new Office - and even direct anger towards PC partners.

OEM partner Dell this week unveiled a new line-up of Vostro machines finally scrubbed free of limited-use software and trial editions dubbed crapware, which clutters the hard drive with drivers and files and loads annoying icons and pop-ups on the desktop. Crapware is installed through agreement between the OEM and software vendor, a practice Dell in particular has been slammed for.

With PC makes like Dell straining to win customers in a saturated and price sensitive market, and where Windows Vista has already proved a bust for partners, the possibility of annoying and alienating customers further will be an unwelcome prospect.

The business upside for partners is uncertain, too, as it's unclear whether Microsoft or partners will foot support costs. Partners lose margin on product as they receive more post-sales support calls, and Office 2007 will be no exception.

Microsoft appears to be targeting businesses with its new program, as consumers tend not to buy Office based on features and price. Most large businesses, meanwhile, get their copies of Office under Microsoft's volume purchase and Software Assurance programs.

It seems, therefore, Microsoft hopes to infiltrate business at the end-user level.

Microsoft is throwing considerable weight behind Office 2007 after years of sluggish customer upgrades to new versions of its Office suite. Application, data and workflow integration with Microsoft's server software like SQL Server and SharePoint, make Office 2007 one of the most important new Offices releases for a company that's pushing the ideas of information worker and collaboration.

Plus, even though Office 2007 runs on Windows XP, Microsoft is keen to stress the interface and workflow synergies between Office 2007 and Windows Vista, which has been letting hardware and channel partners down through disappointing sales.

Previous editions of Office have shipped below target, with just 15 percent of PCs running Office 2003 two years after that suite shipped, instead of Microsoft's stated goal for two thirds of PCs to be running Office 2003 by 2005. Some users are still clinging to versions of Office going back 10 years.

OEMs and system builders are now firmly in the Office 2007 upgrade campaign vanguard, with Microsoft hoping that upgrades will be driven as each new PC ships. Microsoft last month said it would stop supplying partners with the OEM edition of Office 2003 and only make Office 2007 available from the start of July. ®

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