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February 24, 2006

The Microsoft Office 2007 Upgrade Is Going to Have a Big Learning Curve--and a Big Price. Now's the Time to Consider OpenOffice.org Instead.


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 enormous retraining costs.

Here's why.

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.


And again courtesy of Linux Watch, here's a screen shot of MS Office 2007. Click 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.

Mark Shuttleworth (founder of the Ubuntu project, second space tourist and freedom toaster guy), makes this point, posted by Justin here.

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.

Heck, IBM Isn't Going to Upgrade to Windows Vista at All
IBM will be using RedHat for the operating system and their own riff on OpenOffice.org for their office suite.

Here's an article on it, and related sites on the Windows Vista Weblog and Groklaw.

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.

What if this:

changed to this?


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

$ + retraining + effort > retraining + effort

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).



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Great article !!!
Yes OOo is the good way.

As a joke, if users still need billions of cells in their spreadsheet, Calc can event beat the future Excell 12

I think it's fair to say that Office 2007 represents a real opportunity for OOo - but also that its a real threat too.

Obviously, because OOo essentially mirrors the interface of the current version of Word, it represents a zero-cost option for businesses in terms of both the amount of time that people need to get used to it, and any retraining costs. That's the good bit.

However, Office 2007 also represents an opportunity for businesses to cut the costs of both supporting and training in using the applications. The new interface is a big step forward in terms of making the features of the applications easy to find. There's no features buried underneath layer upon layer of menus, dialog boxes, and so on. The fact that features are easier to find means that it's less likely that users who've used something once will then forget where it is - and call support to ask.

Around the last place I worked, I became known as "the guy who knows about Word". Every day, someone would ask me how to do something in Word - and nine times out of ten, it was something they KNEW Word could do, but couldn't find. I think with Word 2007, most of those questions wouldn't come up.

With OOo, they most certainly would. Because OOo mirrors the Office interface, it inherits the mistakes that generations of Office UI designers have made (and, alas, adds a few of its own). While that makes it a very familiar environment for current Office users, it's not a really friendly one.

That's the threat. If Microsoft approaches business with the story that the new Office will lower support costs, they will jump at it - even if it offered NO other new features, that alone would make it worth the upgrade costs.

Hi Ian,

Thanks for commenting. I am all in favor of better design. I can see how if MS 2007 truly is better then once the retraining happened then there could be less support and less reliance on the "Word guy" in the organization. ;>

But. That's once you get there.

You can't get great deals on silk in Thailand if you're afraid to fly, and you can't get runner's high if you aren't interested in running three miles every day. And you aren't going to bother to try to train to get runner's high if you think you feel fine right now.

There are a lot of people out there who really don't care about software. Who want to spend as little time as possible with it. As little time as possible changing or relearning or doing anything but what they need to do, which is get the five reports out to the mayor's office--or whatever their job is.

Some companies may make the leap quickly. Programming organizations, if they truly need the software and can afford the upgrade, should have relatively little problem. They groove on software and will beg to take it home to play with and learn it. If you've got 500 users supporting a nursing home, a gym, a city or state government--well, it's more likely they've got their jazz combo to practice with, their house to remodel, their swing dance performance troupe, and might not be so interested in how cool the new drastically different software UI is.

Essentially, I think IT people and beta testers are not good predictors of how the rest of the users across the world are going to react. I certainly had a lot of relearning to do when I started teaching--and I am certainly no programmer, no macro whiz, no compliler of my own Linux distro.

So if you're an IT director, really consider, and pre-test if you can, how your users are going to do with the new MS 2007. The results might not be what you expect.

I'm willing to be wrong, but my experience tells me I'm not.

There is another 'issue' with dynamic interfaces (those that change depending on what the user is doing), and that is support. When our organization made the move from WordPerfect 5.1 and Multimate (both DOS-based word processors) to Word on Windows95, our ability to support our users over the phone was severely crippled.

Instead of "Hit F3, tab, tab" we now had to say "Find the little picture that looks like a..." And it seems to me that this kind of extra-support-burden is about to hit again. Instead of saying, "Click the menus: Tools, Language, Thesaurus", support personnel are going to be faced with "ok, what does your ribbon look like now" problems.

This might force organizations to buy and install remote desktop control software (assuming that all client machines are even reachable via a network) just to support MS Office. And users will not be able to write-down instructions (Tools, Language, Thesaurus) on a Post-It Note for next time.

Hi Ronan,

"There is another 'issue' with dynamic interfaces (those that change depending on what the user is doing), and that is support."

Excellent point! Yes. Changing, and having to say in tech support or documentation "that thing that looks like a badger smoking a carrot" or whatever is a pain.

I had a similar doc experience long ago as a techwriter--it was for a GUI product with a complete toolbox for changing the interface anyway the customer developers wanted. ;>

And personally I'm not a fan of the Mac's adaptive menus.

You know, the navigation will bring MS trainers the same problem I USED to have when OOo had context-sensitive changeable toolbars--the Big Blue Triangle, for those of you who remember. I like the View > Toolbars > Toolbar of your Choice so much better. (The right toolbar still pops up as much as it used to, but there's a straightforward way to do it.)

Fabulous points. Thank you.


MSO 2007 apparently also has some substantial server and CAL requirements.

No one's writing about them. I can speculate why with some wild guesses:

If one doesn't have the server already, the new purchase will add to the cost. If the old server doesn't have the power to run the new software, then an upgrade adds to the cost. Then there are the CALs for MSO 2007 and, presumably, a separate set of CALs needed for the server. My cynical guess would be that they are not sold in matching quantities. Also presumably there may be some re-configuration of the workstations needed to get all of the above to work. So on the whole, I'd guess that it's a time consuming and inconvenient process, otherwise MS would be crowing about how easy it is.

It could be that in addition to saving in regards to re-training, substantial time and costs can be spared in regards to infrastructue re-tooling and maintenance.

Hmm.. well some of the arguments here seem to me to be a rehash of the ones that people made when jumping from DOS to Windows ("Well sure it looks easier to use... but think of all that retraining cost..."), and I tend to think that ease of use trumps familiarity over the long term. Whether MSO 2007 represents enough of a level of increased ease of use, though, only time - and lots of users - will tell :)

Lars - afaik there's no extra server requrements, unless you're committing to using Sharepoint etc as well.

I wouldn't emphasise the adaptive toolbar, or whatever it's called, too much as a showstopper. MS has been introducing such features into its OS and apps for years; however they've always allowed you to turn it off and use "Classic" menus that don't keep changing and making stupid suggestions. MS is very aware of "legacy" problems and bends over backwards to keep users comfortable. Probably the new versions of Office still have the WordPerfect compatible keystrokes and help; Excel still has Lotus 123 compatibility features.

I do think though that word processing reached feature-completeness about 1990; 95% of users would be happy with Winword 2 (and enjoy its amazing speed on new hardware). OO just has to watch its bloat.

This is a very informative post about the new Office 12 - thanks very much!

The idea of adaptive menus, while it may be very visually "interesting" to the user does in fact present extraordinary issues for those involved in provding user support by phone, as Solveig points out.

And 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. Sure the power users are going to be happy, but the real day-to-day users are not geeks but rather people to whom using a computer should not come as a hassle; they legitimately should not have to learn an entire set of new menu features just to print a normal letter and envelope.

And to the extent that the new menu items have a similar name but a different functionality than the existing menu items...{shudder}. Guranteed problems!

Yeah, Mirosoft realizes that adding new functionality to Word is much more difficult than adding zippy new menus (how many new word processing features does anyone really need, anyway? ) but I think that MS is simply going off in the wrong direction here in another misguided marketting effort to churn out new levels of profit from essentially matured products...

Good article, I have some thoughts though. I work at an Architectural firm, and we do not use AutoCAD (thank God). Our program is much, much pricier, but enables us to complete jobs much quicker than with AutoCAD. Here's my point: office users will be willing to shell out more cash if it will (or makes them think it will) increase their current productivity level. I am a OOo fan, and currently use it at work and home. Eye candy is a pretty good hook for most people. Heck, the 'Live Preview' in office 2007 is great. It may not accomplish very much, but it's flashy. People like *bling*. Minimalistic approaches will not continue to work over the long run.

Hi Jerry,

I know, I think flashy is one of the things Microsoft does best. See my blog on how to get to people emotionally and with design rather than logic.

If people are intellectually evaluating whether they need to pay $XX,XXX,XXX dollars to upgrade, though, and are willing to analyze rather than go with a simpler (must have bling!) approach to decision-making, well, that's where OpenOffice.org comes in.


It is really nice looking.
I like it.

Office 2007 really rocks.

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