Microsoft's upgrade avalanche a challenge for IT pros

Corporate technology managers must take time when deciding on Windows, Office upgrade path

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In fact, an argument can be made that Microsoft may be pushing out Windows 8 and Office 15 too close to their predecessors, and may find it is competing against itself, Osterman said.

"Unless there's something really compelling in Windows 8, I don't see the upgrade push," Osterman said. "And with Office 15, Microsoft is going to be hard-pressed to make the case for it, only because Office 2010 is so good. Microsoft has a very nice set of products on the desktop right now."

The next Office suite

Office 15 is in limited-access, early testing. A broader beta period is slated for the summer. Very little is known about technical details and improvements in the Office 15 applications at this point. What Microsoft is saying unequivocally is that Office 15 will be "the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division." The revamped applications, which will also include Project and Visio, will all get new "touch-friendly" UIs on tablets and similar devices.

For now, the Office product that Hyatt's Blake is most focused on is the cloud-hosted email and collaboration suite Office 365 and its predecessor, BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). Hyatt is deploying BPOS and plans to later upgrade to Office 365, which was released in mid-2011 and includes online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office and Lync. Office 365 will be upgraded again once Office 15 is released in final form.

Coming from IBM Lotus Notes, Hyatt has experienced a significant improvement in email reliability and in employee collaboration from using BPOS.

Prior to rolling out BPOS, Hyatt's email system was down 81 times over three years, with each of those outages being 10 minutes long or more. In the 13 months since it has been using Exchange Online, Hyatt has had only three hours of downtime, he said.

Meanwhile, SharePoint Online has taken employees' ability to collaborate with each other and with customers and partners to another level, he said.

Blake, however, isn't too happy with the licensing scheme for BPOS and Office 365, which he finds too complicated, especially considering that they are subscription-based suites.

He wishes the Microsoft suites would be licensed and billed in the "all inclusive" model of rival Google Apps. The Google suite costs $50 per user, per year, or, alternatively, $5 per user, per month. Hyatt almost picked Google Apps over BPOS, ultimately deciding against it in large part due to users' historical familiarity with the Outlook email client. "It was almost a coin toss between the two," Blake said.

Instead, Office 365 has multiple versions at different prices with different mixes of components, and as Hyatt looks ahead at transferring to it from BPOS, Blake finds the licensing scenario annoyingly complex, calling the many versions of Office 365 "crazy" and "foolish."

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