5 ways to cut the costs of the Office 2010 upgrade

Now that Microsoft has officially kicked Office 2010 into the market, the next milestone is just weeks away: the June 15 launch of the retail versions and the beginning of the roll-out of the it’s-all-free Office Web Apps to consumers.

That gives you a little more than a month to decide whether to upgrade to Office 2010 — and figure out how you’re going to pay for the suite.

The second part may be tougher than the first: Money not only doesn’t grow on trees, but for many of us, that tree has withered since the last time Microsoft upgraded Office.

Ah…2006, 2007…the boom times….

Fortunately, there are ways — legal ways, we should emphasize — to save money on Office. In fact, there are several.

Save $30

Microsoft’s dropped “upgrade” pricing for Office 2010, replacing it with what it calls Product Key Cards, single-license codes that will be sold at retail. The licensing codes will activate a full version of Office from free trial downloads and Office Starter 2010, the bare-bones suite that many computer makers are expected to preinstall on new PCs.

Key cards can also be used to upgrade an older copy of Office to the new 2010.

Microsoft’s priced the key card for Office Home and Student 2010 at $119, 20% (and $30) less than the boxed copy’s $149 price tag.

Word of warning: The key card is for a single license. If you want Office 2010 on more than one machine, the better deal is the $149 boxed edition, which lets you install the suite on up to three machines.

Key card savings increase for the more expensive Office 2010 editions. A card for Office Home and Business 2010, for example, runs $199, $80 less than the $279 price of the boxed version. Office Professional 2010, meanwhile, costs $349 in key card format, $499 in a box, for a $150 savings.

Save $49

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched a free upgrade program, called Technology Guarantee, to keep Office 2007 sales humming along until Office 2010 shows up. Customers who buy an eligible copy of Office 2007 through Sept. 30, 2010, will be allowed to download and install a corresponding edition of Office 2010 for free. (Users who want a DVD installation disc will have to pay a small shipping-and-handling fee.)

Technology Guarantee saves you money only if you can find a copy of Office 2007 for less than either the key card for Office Home and Student 2010. But that’s no problem.

Amazon.com, for example, is currently selling Office Home and Student 2007 for $100, a savings of $49 over Office Home and Student 2010’s boxed price, $20 less than the key card.

Don’t let the small amount between the Technology Guarantee deal and the key card for Office 2010 fool you. Going the 2007-to-2010 route here lets you install the new suite on up to three PCs; the key card only allows a single install.

So here’s the plan: Buy 2007 now, install it, then download the free version of 2010 on June 15, when Microsoft launches the upgrade.

Save $121

You can use Technology Guarantee to save money on higher-priced editions of Office 2010 as well.

Amazon.com’s selling the upgrade version of Office Small Business 2007 for $228.49, a $121.51 savings over the $349 for the single-license key card for Office Professional 2010. (A purchase of Small Business 2007 makes you eligible for an upgrade to Professional 2010.)

No money down, free for two months…or six

Microsoft hasn’t yet shipped the retail versions of Office 2010, but it’s already posted a free 60-day trial of Office Professional Plus 2010 on its TechNet site.

When you request the 650MB download, Microsoft generates an activation code that’s good for 60 days.

You can extend the free deal to as long as six months — assuming you time things right — by not applying the activation code.

Instead, you’ll use a technique dubbed “rearm” (named after the command in Windows that does a similar trick) to extend the life of the free trial to as long as half a year.

Like Windows 7, Office 2010 will run up to 30 days without a 25-character activation code. As the grace period comes to a close, however, increasingly-frequent messages appear on the screen to remind you that it’s about to end. But by invoking a rearm, you can reset the time-until-activation to 30 days.

Office 2010 lets you rearm up to five times; with the original 30-day grace period, that means you can run the suite for 180 days free of charge.

The “My Digital Life” blog outlines the one-step Office 2010 rearm process.

Free forever

While you can’t have Office 2010 free for longer than six months, you can use the Office Web Apps free-of-charge for as long as you want.

Microsoft will roll out Office Web Apps on Windows Live starting June 15. (The company’s said it might take several weeks to reach everyone, as it will make the online software available in stages around the world.)

Included in Office Web Apps will be scaled-back online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, the latter Microsoft’s lesser-known note-taker.

But be warned: The online editions pale in comparison to their desktop cousins, with glaring omissions — you can’t print, for instance — and an overarching attitude that Microsoft “is less than thrilled with the whole idea of online office suites,” as Harry McCracken of Technologizer put it in his excellent eval of Office 2010 and Office Web apps this week.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld.

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