Microsoft has confirmed rumours that up-coming Windows-based PCs will be shipped with a completely free edition of Office 2010 dubbed the "Starter Edition."

As reported over on The Register, the Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition will only be available as a pre-loaded option on 'Office Ready' PCs from major OEMs, but unlike the version of Office 2007 currently pre-installed will have no expiration date.

Instead, the software will have limited functionality and be supported by an advertising framework, of which the company offered little explanation. Clearly Microsoft has a fine line to walk, with the advertising needing to be obnoxious enough to convince your average user to pay for an upgrade but discrete enough that they don't get turned off Office altogether in favour of something else.

The free release will come with an easy upgrade path for those who chose to remove the adverts: with the full version of Office already pre-loaded on the machine's hard-drive, consumers will simply need to buy a card containing a licence code from their local retailer - a similar system to that used for the company's existing Medialess Licence Kits for Office 2007.

So far Microsoft has yet to clarify exactly how limited the "limited functionality" in Office 2010 Starter Edition is, but with the vast majority of home users rarely venturing outside the confines of Word - and possibly Excel - it could well offer an alternative to Wordpad for many.

Can you see a free, ad-supported version of Office gaining traction in the marketplace, or does it all hinge on exactly what the company means by "limited functionality?" Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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