Microsoft Office Starter 2010 review

Excel Starter 2010: what it can do

While there are many alternatives to Word that people can use quite happily – obvious examples being Writer, Google Docs and Zoho – it’s much tougher to find a free spreadsheet application that comes close to Excel., Google and Zoho all provide functional rivals, but they lack the finesse and flexibility of Excel. They’re fine for simple tasks, but little use if you want to present data in professional-looking charts.

Excel Starter loses a large number of the full app’s skills, but if you need to produce a graph or perform simple analysis then it remains a brilliant choice. You can add the same array of colourful charts, benefit from an instant professional look courtesy of colour-coordinated themes, and use all the formulae that can be found in the full-fat version. That’s particularly impressive when you consider the power on offer – right down to the obscure functions that only engineers and statisticians will use.

What’s really useful, though, is the inclusion of the basic formatting tools that most people need to easily present data. Conditional formatting is one obvious example. In what would otherwise be a dry collection of numbers, for example, conditional formatting can instantly draw out “hot” data by adding a red fill to the highest numbers and highlight “cold” data by adding blue to the lowest numbers.
In a similar fashion, Sparklines can add instant trendlines to a row of data, allowing you to pick out the winners and losers at a glance.

Excel Starter 2010: what it can’t do

We suspect some users could use Excel Starter for a decade and never miss one of the features that have been dropped. They tend to focus on the power user. Pivot Tables are arguably the biggest omission, and they will be missed by people who analyse data to any degree. Slicers, a debut feature in Excel 2010, are also omitted, which means that even if you’re analysing a spreadsheet that already includes Pivot Tables you won’t be able to add a slicer to aid analysis.

The Data and Review tab are nowhere to be found, either. Dealing with external data is one of Excel’s most advanced powers, so it’s no surprise that Microsoft has removed it wholesale from Office Starter.

Some of the features found on Review might be missed, however. You can’t add a comment to a spreadsheet in Excel Starter, and nor can you protect cells; a useful tool if you want to share a spreadsheet with others, but you don’t want them to see the data that lies beneath or change any of the values.

Upgrade choice

If you decide you like Office so much you want to buy the full version, it should be no surprise that Microsoft makes this shockingly easy. A Purchase button sits at the right-hand of the Home ribbon in both Excel and Word Starter. Pressing this will take you to a web page containing additional information on how to purchase the version of Office 2010 that Microsoft deems right for your needs, either direct from Microsoft or though one of its partners.

There’s no need to download any more software, as it’s all pre-installed on your system – just locked away. You simply need the right product key, which will either be delivered online or through the post. It shouldn’t take long for the full Office suite you’ve purchased to be up and running.

Be careful, though, that you’re not paying more than you need: if you choose this route, you’ll be paying for a single-use licence that isn’t transferrable to a new PC. Buying a boxed edition of Office 2010 will almost certainly offer much better value for money, as that includes a licence for either two or three installations (for the Home and Business, Home and Student suites respectively).


Despite the restrictions and the annoyance of that ever-present pane, there are many good reasons to stick with Office Starter rather than upgrading to a full suite. For one, it means you’ll be able to open and edit any Word and Excel documents created in Office 2007 or Office 2010 without losing any information. (You can do the same using the Web Apps, but that’s a more cumbersome process.)

Office Starter advert

What’s more, Office Starter is an excellent introduction to Office 2010: in a way, it gives you an extended trial without any risk. Not everyone gets to grips with the Ribbon, for instance, so switching to Word and Excel Starter will give you an opportunity to see whether you like it or not. Fortunately, you can keep any previous installations of Office intact on your computer and carry on using them, until you come to upgrade to a full version of Office 2010, when the old version will be removed.

Note, however, that Office 2010 Starter isn’t your only option if you’re looking for a free productivity application. OpenOffice is a strong competitor, and also offers a presentation tool and database. Its UI can’t rival Microsoft Office’s, however, and if you open Office documents they won’t always appear as the author intended; graphs opened in the spreadsheet application might look odd, for example.

Office Starter has its foibles, but there’s still plenty of power here – more than enough to make up for any frustrations. It’s amazing that Microsoft has seen fit give away so much.


Software subcategoryOffice software


Processor requirement500MHz 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 supportNone

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