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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File Format Angst

The new Open XML file format is another area of concern. While the new format is open, more compact and less likely to be corrupted than Office’s current binary formats, Office 2003, XP and 2000 users will need a compatibility pack to read the format. Plus, users on older versions will need to use Explorer to convert files back and forth. “We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid the angst we caused with Office 97,” says Jaffe.

Nonetheless, the transition will be challenging. Jaffe says even organizations with no plans to upgrade to Office 2007 should download the compatibility pack, but Marshall isn’t sure that will happen. Geiger Brothers exchanges documents with hundreds of vendors. “A lot is going to depend on what format they will accept,” he says, but the current plan is to use group policy to force all documents to be saved in Office 2003 format “so we don’t have to deal with the compatibility issue during deployment.”

Jaffe acknowledges that the transition to a new format might be difficult. However, he argues that “in terms of where customers want to go in the future, XML format is the only way we can take them there.” But for now, says Gartner’s Silver, “the least-risk option is to stick with the binary formats for a while.”

Mixed Environments

Many organizations are currently using two or more versions of Office, but Office 2007 is such a radical departure that they may face an even more confusing support environment. “Once they start the migration, they will want to have all users on Office 2007 quickly, versus having a mix,” says Silver.

“I would expect that we’ll see much less of the mixed environments going forward,” says Jaffe. That would certainly benefit Microsoft, which has been frustrated by how reluctant organizations are to upgrade their users to the newest versions of Office. But a broad migration also adds to the cost — particularly if only a small subset of users truly needs the new features.

Ultimately, planners may discover that Office 2007 is as much a sales effort as a technical upgrade. “Many [IT managers] we’ve spoken to believe they need to define strong internal marketing programs to communicate the value of the new client [to] the employee population,” says Forrester’s McNabb.

And once users are up and running, Pencil doesn’t expect them to take advantage of productivity-enhancing new features without a push. “If you want people to use more features, you have to show them how to use them. It’s a sales job. You really have to bang the drum all the time, saying, ‘Office can do that, let me show you how,’” she says.

Marshall acknowledges that 75% of his staff will continue to do “the same kind of work” once Office 2007 is deployed. But he thinks Microsoft is going in the right direction. “This is what they should have been doing with Office all along,” he says.

Go to the survey: Microsoft Office 2007 Adoption Plans

Also see our in-depth review: The Lowdown on Office 2007

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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