Microsoft Office Starter 2010 review

If you buy a new PC or laptop from this summer onwards, chances are it will include Office Starter 2010. We feared the worst when we first heard the news, imagining a version so cut down it would be frustrating to use, but the reality is much better. The starter “suite” comprises only Word Starter and Excel Starter, but they’re both surprisingly fully featured.

In short, you miss out on advanced features targeted at expert or business users. In Word, that means you lose out on tracking changes, for instance; in Excel, Pivot Tables are noticeable by their absence.
All the features most people would consider as core are present, however. Word includes a spelling and grammar checker, a word count and even advanced text effects.

There are no niggling restrictions to printing, saving or sending: this is a fully fledged word processor. It’s a very similar story for Excel. We’ll go into more details on what is and isn’t included later in the review.

Take Office With You

Rather surprisingly, you can even take Office Starter with you on your travels – why Microsoft has opted to offer this feature with its most basic edition but not with the full version is beyond us. However, it’s true.

Head to File | Help in either Word Starter or Excel Starter and you’ll see an option that says “Take Office With You”. Press this and, providing you’ve inserted a suitably large USB flash drive into a port (it requires around 400MB of space), all the vital files will be transferred to the drive. You then just plug the drive into a PC and follow the prompts. When the device is removed from a PC, Office Starter is also removed.

The catch

There is a catch to Office Starter, however, and that is a panel down the right-hand side, which measures precisely 208 pixels wide and can’t be resized or removed. It has some use: newcomers might find it handy to have the Getting Started Guide and Help links on permanent view, and it also encourages you to download extra templates and, in Word, clip-art.

In reality, though, that panel is a sales and advertising tool. At launch Microsoft will be pushing upgrades to the full version of Office, with an image that rotates at frequent intervals. As we’ve been typing this short paragraph, it’s switched images three times.

Over time, these frequent updates could become very annoying, and especially so if Microsoft chooses to sell the advertising to third parties. While it’s insisted the space will never be used by more dubious advertisers, pushing anatomy-enhancing pills for example, there’s still a very real possibility you could be distracted from the document you’re working on by a random, attention-grabbing advert.

The other big problem comes if space is limited. Say you want to make Word half-width so you can look at a web browser at the same time; the 208-pixel-wide pane suddenly becomes very intrusive. It will also be a big issue on netbooks with screens that measure just 1,024 pixels wide: you’re losing a fifth of your screen space.

Word Starter 2010: what it can do

One of Word’s great strengths compared to rival word processors is its ability to create professional-looking documents with the minimum of effort. This trend continues with Word Starter, with all the key tools in Word 2010 included here. In particular, you can create themes, insert cover pages, add impact with pictures and apply styles.

Naturally, all the basics are covered, too. There’s a word count, spelling auto-correction and the formatting tools everyone uses – bold, italics, underline – combined with Text Effects for adding advanced effects such as glows, shadows and reflections. Even if you need to whip up a professional report, the tools you need are here: headers, footers, watermarks and much more.

Perhaps most surprisingly, there’s even a mail-merge feature. So, if you have to send out a mailing to all the members of your club you can follow the six-step wizard and either dispatch emails or letters; Outlook isn’t included in Word Starter, but it integrates with Windows Live Mail.

Word Starter 2010: what it can’t do

Students will be disappointed by the wholesale omission of the References tab. This takes away the nifty ability to create an automated table of contents or use Word’s advanced citations tools. Likewise, the Review tab is nowhere to be seen: you can’t add comments, even though you’re able to view other people’s. Nor can you track changes.

There are a number of small omissions people might find annoying, such as Word’s advanced reading views. For example, many people find it useful to opt for a full-screen reading view when checking a document; all you can do in Word Starter is switch between print, web, outline and draft layouts (via the icons at the bottom right of the screen, because the View tab is also missing).

A bigger problem for power users is the lack of macro support. This doesn’t just mean you can’t create macros: even if they’re part of the Word document you’re viewing, Word Starter won’t run them.

Details

Software subcategory Office software

Requirements

Processor requirement 500MHz processor

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support None

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