(Originally published February 2006)
Office 2007 Is Just Another Upgrade...Right?
In a word. No.
This is going to be huge. Painful. Expensive. And that's before you get to the retraining costs.
Microsoft Office 2007 Is a Radical Redesign of the User Interface, and Will Require Plenty of Retraining
Here's the current Microsoft Word toolbar.
Courtesy of LInux Watch and linked articles, here's a screen shot of MS Word 2003. Click to see a larger version.
MS Office 12 looks entirely different, and changes constantly as you move in the document. Click this image to see a larger version.
You can't just install this on all 500 computers at your organization and tell people there's a new version.
The Buzz on Microsoft Office 2007 Is the Retraining
Experts around the planet are leary of the radically changed new interface.
Here's an excerpt from an article on eWeek.
Heading the list of challenges facing Microsoft is the fact that Office 2007 has a new user interface, which could require extensive staff retraining at a significant cost, as well as a new file format, which has the potential to create compatibility issues, analysts such as Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research, told eWEEK.
"When you introduce something new, it disrupts, and this increases things like help desk costs and employee downtime," Wilcox said. "So, to get to the benefits that come with this, they have to get past whatever retraining will be needed around the new user interface and any hardships around the new file format, which are always disruptive. These are two big hurdles Microsoft has to get around."
Enterprise customers such as Robert Rosen, CIO for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, agree. The new user interface and file formats pose "major concerns and will slow up adoption significantly," Rosen said. "Since we don't know enough about the benefits of Office 2007, we have not yet developed any plans to move forward."
And another quote:
Jupiter Research's Wilcox told eWEEK that if there were ever an opportunity for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org, "this might be it, going head-to-head against Office 2007, because we have a new file format and a new user interface, which means a lot of extra cost," and which could torpedo many enterprises from upgrading.
In addition, a lot of Software Assurance contracts are expiring between now and the end of July, and Microsoft will be aggressively beating the sales drum. Those businesses might well be looking at their alternatives and options before signing a new contract, he said.
Here's Paul Thurott:
For the first time ever, Microsoft has dramatically changed the Office interface, replacing the standard menu-and-toolbar interface we've known since the earliest Windows applications with a new UI paradigm based on context-sensitive ribbons and tabs."
Here are quotes from Paul's article on the new office software, from Jacobe Jaffe, Group Product Manager on the Office team.
As a personal anecdote, I have a variety of PCs, and on one of those machines for a variety of reasons, I still have Office 2003 installed. I use Office 12 essentially full time, and for me to go back into 2003 is not so good. It's pretty painful, actually."
And Paul's follow-up comment--keeping in mind that he's an expert user.
But because this requires a different skill set to accomplish, I had to relearn how to do this. Long story short, most things are easier, but some power user features will require some more work....I'm nitpicking here, of course. The truth is, the Office 12 interface is so much dramatically better than previous versions, it's hard to find fault with it. On the other hand, I am a power user who uses Office all day long, and I slightly resent having to relearn certain skills. I'll get over it.
This might not be a direct quote but it's Justin's restatement of Mark's point.
"Office 12 has had substantial UI changes, since Microsoft is trying to distance themselves from the Open Office project. End result, users will require re-training. So which is easier? Re-train users in new Office 12? Or simply, start using Open Office which quite frankly looks just like MS Office today."
Here's another blog along the same lines, Ted's Radio Blog, with a similar conclusion at the end.
"Seven different versions. Dozens of applications, with various features disabled. Nightmarish new licenses. New servers. What a mess! All this to print documents, calculate spreadsheets and do other routine office work? I think Microsoft is overreaching here. They may sell to their captive audience, but new computer users whose machines come with Corel Office or OpenOffice are going to be hard-pressed to find a reason to switch. If you haven't tried OpenOffice.org, there's no better time than the present!"
Think about all those users out there. Switching, if they all do, is not going to be easy. Take a look at just one part of it. Think about how the people who call you, the IT support folks, are going to react. Think about Laura in accounting or Bob down in contracts.
It All Comes Back to Economics 101
You're happy now with Microsoft Office.
But things change, and the cost can grow to outweigh the benefit.
Think About the Cost and Benefit of the Upgrade to Microsoft 2007. Really Think About It.
If you feel that the new UI in this version could change your world and your users' worlds, there might be a wonderful promised land of fabulous easy of use waiting on the other side of the River of Retraining. There might be. But ya gotta cross the River of Retraining first, and some of your users are going to rock the boat.
I'm not saying you shouldn't use Microsoft Office just because they're changing the interface. I'm saying, you're going to have to retrain people. As long as you have to retrain people, why not consider all your options?
Switching from your current Microsoft software to Office 2007 will require:
- A lot of money for the software
- Training and documentation
- Time and effort to install and convert documents
Switching from your current Microsoft software to OpenOffice.org will require:
A lot of money for the software
- Training and documentation
- Time and effort to install and convert documents
The Microsoft Office 2007 Upgrade is more expensive in money, time, and effort than switching to OpenOffice.org.>
This Too: OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office Currently Look More Similar Than Office 2003 and Office 2007
Training your users to go from Office 2003, or before, to OpenOffice.org, might be easier than teaching them the whole new Office 2007 system.
Here's the current Microsoft Word toolbar, and the toolbar for OpenOffice.org Writer. Right now, they're really similar. Click each to see a bigger image. See how long it takes to tell which is which.
And here's an OpenOffice.org screen shot. Not that different.
Retraining Aside: Do You Need the 2007 Features?
As a commenter on this blog, George Wenger, states, "The vast majority of users in a so-called "average" business setting already have no use for 90% of the existing features of Word, let alone a whole set of new features."
Your job is to make everyone else's job easier. When you walk by the software users in the hall, you want them to say, "Hey, Jim! I can do that mail merge now!" and maybe offer a high five.
Does Marsha in Accounting or Bob in Contracts need ribbon toolbars and a new UI paradigm?
How many of the new features does your organization actually need? Have the support staff been begging you for this one?
"We're also enabling a new mobile scenario with OneNote Mobile," Jaffe told me. "So literally you'll be able to have a OneNote notebook available to you on a mobile device, like a Windows Powered Smartphone. You can take notes on your Smartphone, or read your [PC-based notes on the Smartphone. The pages in that Smartphone notebook align to the information you have in your PC version of OneNote. They sync up through ActiveSync."
And think about these questions:
- How many complaints will you get about how everything's different?
- What will the overall attitude be like when users come in Monday morning and their desktops are different?
- How much will you spend on training and documentation to get people up and running on Office 2007.
Here's a blog on this topic: Dave Rosenberg states that Vista gives you an opportunity to really compare the actual cost and the actual benefits, and he quotes Jon Oltsik from Enterprise Strategy Group.
Later this year, Microsoft will throw a $500 million PR and advertising party aimed at convincing users to upgrade their PCs to Vista. This provides a perfect opportunity for the Linux crowd to persuade CIOs to evaluate Linux and compare pricing. In this way, Microsoft will likely open the door to some unintended Linux desktop momentum.
I have every expectation that Vista will be a much better OS than XP, but do users really need it? Perhaps. Then again, many CIOs may conclude that the more prudent choice would be a Linux desktop and Open Office migration offering good enough functionality, at 10 percent of Microsoft's price."
Switching to OpenOffice.org Means You Can Have Your IT Cake and Eat at Least Part of It, Too
With OpenOffice.org, you can be the kick-butt IT guy who gives your users software that might even be easier to learn than Office 2007, and saves the company money. The VP's assistant Chris loves you, and the VP loves you. Doesn't get much better than that.
If after careful evaluation of 2007, the alternatives (OpenOffice.org among others), and what is involved in upgrading, you still think MS Office 2007 is the best solution for your users' needs, go ahead and upgrade. (Keep in mind that users do not need to be "cool." ;> They do need health insurance.)
But it might not be, and it's important to think about your choices. If your job is to deliver the best product for the best value and have your users be able to do their jobs well, please think about the choices.
References for switching to OpenOffice.org: See this post on the process of migrating a group of users who might be resisting the process, and this post on top ten reasons to switch to OpenOffice.org (besides the one covered in this post).