Is Microsoft Office adware? Wikipedia defines adware as "any software package which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertising material to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used."
In Microsoft Office Professional 2003's help, a search for "APA" (a popular documentation style) brings up two links labeled Microsoft Office Marketplace.
A click on the link opens a web page where the item is available for a fee. Also, there's a banner advertisement from Dell.
A search in Office's help for "print" leads to the brief article "Print more than one copy" with two up-selling links for Office 2007.
By the way, clicking either promotion launches Internet Explorer even when Firefox is the default browser. The reason is the Office help runs an embedded Internet Explorer showing a page from office.microsoft.com. Despite the technical explanation, it can be confusing and inconvenient for the user to use a non-default browser.
On Microsoft.com, Sandi Hardmeier, MVP, concludes her adware definition, "Ads are not bad by themselves but they become a problem when they are unauthorized. Unfortunately, many adware programs do not give users enough notice or control." In Office, where is the "notice or control"? A workaround is to search the Offline Help instead of the default Microsoft Office Online.
Could Office be spyware? Microsoft defines spyware as "software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising." Microsoft continues:
That does not mean all software that provides ads or tracks your online activities is bad. For example, you might sign up for a free music service, but you "pay" for the service by agreeing to receive targeted ads. If you understand the terms and agree to them, you may have decided that it is a fair tradeoff. You might also agree to let the company track your online activities to determine which ads to show you.
Basically, spyware includes adware, but not all ads are bad. Are ads bad about after paying for an Office license?
Another part of spyware is tracking. The Office 2003 EULA (.PDF and .XPS wrapped in .EXE) states:
CONSENT TO USE OF DATA. You agree that Microsoft and its affiliates may collect and use technical information gathered as part of the product support services provided to you, if any, related to the Software. Microsoft may use this information solely to improve our products or to provide customized services or technologies to you and will not disclose this information in a form that personally identifies you.
While in Office the collected information is not personal, the EULA does not mention disabling collection.
The Office Privacy Statement admits the use of tracking cookies. While cookies are normal and generally harmless, it is unusual to require cookies or to use them in a desktop application. If cookies are disabled in Internet Explorer, the Office help fails.
In conclusion, Office 2003 does display ads, and certain parts require cookies. While these are a normal and healthy part of the web, it is, at least, unusual for a commercial desktop application.