Real-world advice about Office 2007 deployment

Watch out for side effects and unintended consequences

The 2007 Microsoft Office system has finally hit the streets, and thus IT departments around the globe are beginning to make plans for its eventual deployment.

What are some things to consider, both about the deployment process itself and also its unintended consequences and side effects? Read on for some real-world pointers regarding Office 2007 deployment.

Using Group Policy to deploy Office 2007

There remains some confusion around the issue of being able to deploy Office 2007 through the IntelliMirror functionality of Group Policy in an Active Directory environment. This is a 100% supported and fully functional method to deploy Office 2007, although in Microsoft's term, it's no longer the "preferred" enterprise deployment scheme.

It appears, although this hasn't been confirmed in any official way, that Microsoft is moving to encourage other software deployment solutions, so at some yet-to-be-determined time in the future, you may not be able to deploy upcoming versions of Office with Group Policy.

It's true that getting software installation to work correct with IntelliMirror is tricky, especially at the beginning, but once you have successfully configured all of the elements, a lot of companies have great success with Group Policy-based deployments. Unfortunately, this method is no longer the "best practice" of Microsoft. So put alternative deployment methods, not just for Office but other software instead, on your radar for 2008 and beyond.

Other Office deployment methods

Apart from deploying Office using the tried-and-true IntelliMirror process, what other options are there for deploying Office 2007? You have two major ones, which are profiled next.

  • Deploy Office as part of your new operating system image. If you're going gung-ho for Windows Vista and Office 2007 at the same time, use Vista's deployment tools, namely the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) and deploy an image. That's the most efficient way.

    However, note that the BDD and other image-based deployment tools are primarily suited for getting an entire image laid down on a bare-metal hard drive. So, if you want to deploy Office at the same time as Vista, BDD can help, but if you're leaving Windows Vista for another time, BDD won't work for you.

  • Use Systems Management Server or System Center Essentials. This option not only enables a pretty good Office deployment, but it also opens up some other opportunities for future software deployment, patch management, mass configuration changes, and so on.

    While System Center Essentials is based on the updating technology of Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and is geared toward smaller enterprises, Systems Management Server is industrial-strength management software and will pay for itself many times over should you choose to migrate to it.

The less obvious challenges

While the technical issues surrounding the migration to Office 2007 and its assorted suite brethren are of course challenging, some other significant obstacles must be overcome that are a little less obvious from the outset. The actual deployment-that is, the actual streaming of Office bits to client workstations-isn't all that involved once the planning is complete. Your users, however, face some other issues. Some points you might want to take into consideration:

  • User training. This is of course the perennial sticking point in any large-scale migration to a new application, but it's something you must consider. While Microsoft spent a lot of time and money in usability testing with the new Ribbon interface and in making sure users felt comfortable enough in the Office 2007 environment to at least immediately be able to get work done, users who are accustomed to using some more advanced Office features will face some frustration in both accessing and using the tools to which they were accustomed.

    While this is somewhat of a "one-time" user frustration expense-after all, users will get used to Office 2007-your migration plan should take into account increased help desk calls and at least a short period of reduced or degraded worker productivity in a worst-case scenario.

  • Compatibility with add-ins used in production. If you work with extensively modified templates or you have custom add-ins used in your production environment, you'll need to add a little bit more time to your test deployment cycle to make sure the add-in and templates are compatible with the new Office user interface, including the Ribbon.

    The UI changes broke some add-ins. This might also cause user frustration if add-ins have to be redeveloped or replaced in order to work correctly in conjunction with Office 2007.

  • Support for the modified Office 2007 document format. This gives a lot of people trouble, including document-heavy businesses like publishing companies. (I speak from personal experience here.) The new .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, and other new formats for Office 2007 cannot be read by unmodified and unpatched copies of Office XP and Office 2003. (They actually can't be read by Office 2000, either, but since it's no longer supported in production I chose to focus on later versions.)

    There is a plug-in available for Office 2003 to read Office 2007 documents, so that your Office 2007 users don't have to remember to save in the compatibility format. But you also run the risk of business partners, who aren't necessarily as far along in the upgrade cycle as your company, not being able to read your company's Office documents because their systems remain unmodified.

For help getting your users up to speed with the new Office 2007 interface, see Word 2007 Cheat Sheet.

Resources

Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007

Microsoft Training: Deploying Microsoft Office 2007 Professional Plus

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor at Apress LLC, a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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