Office 2000, for $99?

Balking at software packages that can cost more than a PC, some people are turning to a special Microsoft offer. But is it too good to be true?

Published October 5, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Let's say you've just gotten a new computer. The cheaper models now go for as little as $600 or $700, complete with monitor. Then you get a $400 rebate for signing on with Prodigy or Compuserve. Nice deal, isn't it? You've got a brand new beige box in your living room and your checking account has barely felt it.

Everything's great until you realize that you need a bunch of applications, and shareware just won't cut it. That's when you get hit with Microsoft sticker shock. A new copy of Office 2000 Premium Edition -- the de facto standard for all business applications -- carries a sticker price of $799. You can shave a little off that -- the current street price is closer to $600 -- but it's still a lot of dough.

You might think of making a copy of a friend's software. But, of course, that's illegal. And it seems hardly fair that you should get it for free when your buddy paid good money.

Some people have hit upon another solution. And while it doesn't involve actually pirating software, the legality is still dubious.

For $99, you can buy an Office 2000 training kit directly from Microsoft; it is intended for system administrators who install corporate software. The training kit tells system administrators what to do when frantic users come calling for help in making the PowerPoint slides print out in a nicer shade of magenta. The kit includes a full, working copy of Office 2000 Premium -- Word, Excel, FrontPage and a half-dozen other programs, four CD-ROMs in total.

Word of the Microsoft offer has gotten out -- and at least one entrepreneur has been peddling instructions on how to get the cheap software on eBay, for $5.

One person who signed up to get a free copy from Microsoft says all he had to do was fill out a short form, telling Microsoft that he worked for a company that "sells hardware, software, technology or consulting services." The package arrived a few days later; the software works fine (though it is non-upgradeable, which means he won't get an inexpensive upgrade to the next revision).

Of course, if you are not a system administrator responsible for installing and managing software, you probably shouldn't be telling Microsoft that you are. It could be considered fraud. The home office in Redmond didn't return a call seeking comment, but it's a sure bet that Microsoft would like to discourage Joe User from getting the discounted software. The problem is that tracking exactly who is getting the inexpensive package is no simple matter. On the Web, as the old canard goes, nobody knows if you're the chief technology officer of a multibillion-dollar corporation -- or the chief technology officer's goldfish.

By Mark Gimein

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

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