MS Works 9 to be Free and Ad-Supported?

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Although rumors about an ad-supported, low-end productivity suite from Microsoft have been circulating for a couple of years, the Redmond software giant finally appears to be ready to do something about it: in an interview, the VP of Microsoft’s Search and Advertising Group, Satya Nadella, said that the company has recently "released" a new ad-supported version of Microsoft Works. Although Microsoft has not officially announced the product and is apparently not yet willing to discuss its existence, but the company seems to be working with PC manufacturers to pre-install the ad-supported version of Works in a trial program.

Microsoft Works is the company’s long-standing basic productivity suite, combining word processing, spreadsheet, calendaring, database, and other common office tasks at a price point significantly below that of Microsoft’s Office application suite. Works is commonly bundled with Windows computers as a starter productivity package. Users accustomed to Microsoft Office often denigrate Works’ capabilities, and free software proponents quickly point to the higher-powered (and free!) application suite from OpenOffice.org. Nonetheless, millions of computer users’ first introduction to productivity software has been through Works, and many stick with it for years.

Microsoft currently lists Microsoft Works 9.0 as a $39.95 product, but Microsoft apparently plans to offer versions of Works pre-installed on computers, complete with their own stash of advertisements which appear while customers are using the program. When a user connects to the Internet, Works checks in and updates it local cache of advertising content. Microsoft apparently plans to keep the paid-for version of Works 9 ad-free: in other words, pay some money and see no ads, or use it for free and tolerate ads which you can’t take off the screen.

A free, ad-supported version of Microsoft Works might help Microsoft compete against Google, which offers basic productivity services via its Web-based Docs & Spreadsheets. However, unlike Docs & Spreadsheets, where users must be connected to the Internet to access to applications, Microsoft Works runs locally on a users machine, offering better performance than an online application, and a Windows-native interface, rather than an application awkwardly implemented within a Web browser window.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has repeatedly emphasized the company needs to pursue offering software as a service without relinquishing its hold on desktop applications; at the same time, the company has recently been investing heavily in building its online advertising business. A free, online version of Works could be the company’s first experiment in an ad-supported, consumer application.

MIcrosoft’s move isn’t the first time a major applicaiton would have offered free, ad-supported versions in addition to paid-for, ad-free editions: Qualcomm’s venerable email program Eudora offered a free, full-featured ad-sponsored mode, in addition to an ad-free, reduced-function mode and a fully-paid ad-free mode,

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