Microsoft is discontinuing its venerable Works program, an entry-level productivity suite for home users, and replacing it with Office Starter 2010, which will contain advertising.

The announcement means the end of Microsoft Works, the neglected stepchild of the Office family that Microsoft kept in the basement for some 20 years. Often preinstalled on home PCs, Works was a decent productivity tool for basic chores, like family budgeting and homework. It had its quirks, however, such as forcing you to save a document in the Works format, even if the file had previously been saved in another format.

According to a video on the Microsoft Office blog, Redmond decided two years ago to develop Office Starter, which explains why Works, with its Office 2003-era interface, had been ignored for so long.

The new Office Starter 2010 will come preinstalled on many new Windows PCs. Works will go away, as will those annoying "trial editions" of Office. And unlike the trial versions, Office Starter won't have an expiration date. You'll be able to use it as long as you like.

As you'd expect, Starter is a crippled version of Office 2010. It contains just two "reduced-functionality" apps - Word Starter and Excel Starter - that are designed for Works-style home chores, such as writing recipes and newsletters.

Office Starter 2010 also doesn't including Outlook, OneNote, or PowerPoint.

Microsoft says upgrading to the full Office will be easy: if Starter 2010 is preinstalled on your computer, you'll be able to buy a Product Key Card (at retail outlets), enter the key number in your PC, and unlock the full Office program.

Starter 2010, unlike Works, has an up-to-date interface, including the Office ribbon that isn't universally loved by all who use it.

The free version of Office will be supported by advertising, however. At the bottom of Starter 2010's Task Pane, a right column with links to a Getting Started guide, clip art, and templates, you'll find an ad window.

See also:

Microsoft Office 2010 review

PC World magazine US