Microsoft Office 2010 to appear in a free, ad-funded version!

Microsoft Office 2010, due out next year, will be available in a free version called Office 2010 Starter.

Like the no-cost Google Apps suite, Office 2010 Starter will be supported by advertising. Although its name implies a trial version, Office 2010 Starter will have no time-limit.

But there’s a catch.

While the freebie Office 2010 Starter will have a similar interface as the full commercial version, including the signature ribbon introduced with Office 2007, it offers only Word and Excel – and stripped down versions of the software at that.

If you want presentation graphics and database software as well, you’ll have to pay for the full commercial version of Office 2010 … or download one of the free business software suites, which includes OpenOffice 3.0 – bankrolled in part by Google, IBM and others.

Another draw-back: Office 2010 Starter will only be available on new PCs, according to the Microsoft TechNet blog that broke the news.

Microsoft first began talking about an ad-funded version of Office back in mid-2007. But with Office on track to generate $16 billion or so in sales this year – despite a 13% dip in its most recent quarter – Microsoft has been hesitant to mess with this cash cow.

For now, it seems, the growing popularity of free and no-cost alternatives is getting to great to ignore.

Office in your browser
Its decision to release a free, ad-supported version of Office 2010 is the second radical move Microsoft has made with its new 2010 suite.

Its first was to announce a free, web version of Office 2010 that will see Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and other apps available in iterations that can run inside any web browser, allowing a user to view or edit files without Office 2010 being installed on a PC. This browser-based version of Office 2010 is currently being rolled out in an invitation-only trial.

The web version of Office 2010 is aimed squarely at Google Apps, which is available in both a free, ad-supported version and a more full-featured Premiere version that costs users $50 per user per year.

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