Microsoft yesterday introduced a scheme that gives OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) more opportunities to sell licences for its forthcoming Office 2007 suite.

The Office Ready programme will let PC vendors preinstall several versions of Office 2007 for customers to use on a trial basis, said Rachel Bondi, senior director, small and medium businesses, for the Office product group. The Office 2007 versions covered under the programme are Office Basic, Office Small Business and Office Professional, she said.

Microsoft unveiled the scheme at its annual partner meeting, the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, in Boston.

Previously, if a customer wanted to purchase Office preinstalled on a PC from a system builder or an OEM, they would have to purchase a license for the software. Some customers would accept that, but others, particularly smaller businesses, would opt to purchase Office later from a retailer because the up-front expense was beyond their budgets, Bondi said.

"The experience from a customer perspective was, if they didn't buy and install Office up front, within 60 days they [bought] the licence somewhere else," she said. "System builders would lose the opportunity to sell."

Now, OEMs and system builders can offer the two-month trial when they sell a PC, and after that time a customer can purchase the license for the software, Bondi said. If customers decide not to purchase the license after the trial period is over, they can still save and edit the documents they created in Office during the trial period, but not create new documents, she said.

The date when Office 2007 will actually become available is in flux. Microsoft originally said Office 2007 would be available to both business and retail customers in the second half of 2006, but the company changed that plan in March and delayed the retail release until January 2007, though business customers were expected to get Office 2007 by October.

That plan changed again in late June, when Microsoft said it would delay the release of Office 2007 to business customers until the end of the year, and the retail release a few months later than the January target. The company said the reasoning behind the delay was so it could incorporate feedback from 2.5 million testers who are currently looking at the second beta version of the product.