‘Product Key Cards’ are Office 2010’s hidden catch

How much would you rather pay for Office Professional 2010 – $849 or $499? Would you knock back a $90 discount on Office Home and Business 2010 or even object to pocketing two twenties if you found the entry-level Home and Student 2010 bundle for $169 instead of the $209 sticker price?

Those are the savings available to consumer who opt to purchase on of Microsoft’s new Product Key Cards for Office 2010 instead of the traditional retail box.

Product Key Cards are a new addition to Microsoft’s Office 2010 sales strategy. Sold by major retailers and some PC suppliers these packs lack an installation DVD – they’re intended to unlock the 30-day trial version of Office 2010 installed on many new PCs and also available as a download from Microsoft’s Web site.

The disc-free cards provide a discount of between 20% and 45% against the same editions of Office 2010 sitting on the shelf. But unlike those boxed bundles the cards allow only for installation of the software on a single PC.

By comparison the boxed copy of Office Home and Student 2010 can be installed on up to three home PCs. The Home and Business 2010 and Professional 2010 bundles are good for two installs (in theory of course both PCs are used by the same person).

So while Office 2010 Product Key Cards represent a substantial saving over the boxed editions it’s good value only if you don’t need more than one installation of the software – otherwise you’ll end up needing to buy additional Product Key Cards and spending much more than if you’d bought your software by the box.