Close Encounters With Office 2007

Microsoft’s new Office suite has some alien features, which raise concerns about backward compatibility, user training and ROI.

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Pencil says Excel’s new support for larger spreadsheets will be useful to a small subset of users who build “really humongous spreadsheets” on a weekly basis as part of pricing exercises. Currently, those analysts must use third-party tools to manipulate that data.

Marshall likes Word’s new live previews feature, which enables users to see how an attribute will look on selected text before it is applied. And he says the pop-up contextual Mini Toolbar, which lets users quickly apply commonly used attributes to selected text, is a “slick” time-saver.

Rhett Smith, principal at consultancy BioCIO LLC in New York, says that, from a developer’s standpoint, Office 2007 is a big improvement. “Developing for previous versions is cumbersome and inconvenient,” he says. “The development model for 2007 is much, much nicer.”

That’s a good thing, because some businesses may have to rewrite some of their custom programming for Office applications. Bob Fink, IT manager at Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co. (PS/EMC) in Chandler, Ariz., says Access 2007 won’t work with Visual Basic 6 programs that were designed to run with the database. The same problem wasn’t resolved in Office 2003 until Service Pack 1 arrived. “Backward compatibility is an issue,” Fink says.

Migration Plans

Only 5% of the surveyed readers said they’ll skip Office 2007. Most organizations see migration as inevitable. The only question is when. Timing depends on issues such as the total project cost and whether companies are still comfortable with an earlier version of Office. “A large portion just recently completed upgrades to Office 2003,” says Kyle McNabb, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Because of that, he says most enterprises don’t expect to move to Office 2007 before 2009.

Owens Corning is likely to migrate in 2007, but the timing has more to do with an internal restructuring than with compelling benefits. “We’ll probably put it forward as one of those projects that will need to be done,” Pencil says, but under normal circumstances, the company would wait. “If I had my druthers, we wouldn’t be doing the upgrade anytime soon,” she says.

At PS/EMC, Fink plans to start by upgrading a small group rather than all 360 users. “It will be piecemeal. If it goes well, we’ll probably step up the deployment a little,” he says, adding that he expects it to take users a few months to become fully proficient with the new version. “For my users that aren’t well versed, Office 2003 was a shock to them, so Office 2007 will be a little intimidating,” Fink says.

Source: Computerworld/'The Office Letter' Survey, October 2006

Source: Computerworld/"The Office Letter" Survey, October 2006

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