In-Depth

Laying the Groundwork for Office 2007

It's coming, along with Vista and a host of other major releases. Making the proper preparations will ease the transition.

If you've seen any of the beta releases of Office 2007, you know it represents a major change. Your users will need time and training to find their way around the new interface with the Ribbons and Aero translucent layers. You'll have to consider file coexistence and compatibility before fully deploying Office 2007. You'll also need to consider what other services you'll require to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Your instinct might be to just start rolling it out on your network and take the challenges as they come. It's not like it was 10 years ago, though, when you could install the latest Office on desktops, pray there weren't too many bugs, give your users a brief training session and walk away.

Before you reach the deployment phase, you'll have to think about how Office 2007 is going to impact your environment. The changes run deeper than the new interface, with especially significant changes for collaboration. As an IT manager, you'll have to be ready for these changes well in advance. To truly get the most out of Office 2007's deepest features, you'll need to lay some groundwork.

Watch for more Laying the Groundwork features coming up in future issues of Redmond. We'll give you deployment strategies and tactics for rolling out Vista, Exchange 2007 and Longhorn.

In with the Old, in with the New
Before we discuss any of your network server considerations, let's look at file formats. They've changed in Office 2007. Files are now saved in .XML. What this means is that by default, you can't open a document created in Office 2007 (with .DOCX, .XLSX, .PPTX extensions) with an older version of Office. You can, however, open documents created in older versions of Office with 2007, but not in all cases (for example, custom solutions built into Excel 2003 may require modifications).

There is a way around the file format issue (aside from having people save their documents in Office 97 to 2003 formats, which would eliminate access to certain Office 2007 features). Download the Office Migration Planning Manager (OMPM). This collection of tools will help you prepare for migration to Office 2007. Here's what the OMPM includes:

  • The OMPM File Scanner (offscan.exe) is a command-line scanner that searches for conversion-type issues. It performs a system scan and saves the results in an .XML file.
  • Database utilities let you import logs created by the OMPM scanner.
  • A Microsoft Access 2007 reporting solution lets you generate reports of your scan results.
  • The Office File Converter (OFC) lets you convert selected files to Office 2007 file formats en masse. The OFC can convert documents from Office 97 to 2003 to .XML after you've run the OMPM to determine what files need conversion.
  • The Version Extraction Tool (VET) lets you pull versions of Word documents into a single document.
  • The OMPM lets you scan entire servers, including your file servers, SharePoint servers or any other WebDAV-enabled document library servers you're running. After taking inventory, it reports any known issues so you can address them before opening or converting files.

If you would rather deploy Office 2007 slowly, you'll invariably end up with a mixture of Office 2003 (or earlier) systems running alongside Office 2007. In that case, you're bound to have compatibility issues.

You can resolve some of these by downloading the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats. These tools let your users open Office 2000, XP and 2003 files and save them as Office 2007 XML documents.

Ready to Roll
You'll need to decide what version of Office you're going to deploy. There are seven different flavors of Office that mix and match different applications, everything from the Home and Student Suite to the Ultimate Suite. You'll also have to decide which method of deployment best suits your needs.

Microsoft provides a tool to help you prepare for an Office 2007 network deployment called the Office Customization Tool (OCT). The OCT lets you install Office, go through the Setup wizard and then save the results to a Setup customization file (.MSP extension) you can use again later on.

Figure 1
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Figure 1. Microsoft Word 2007 has a feature that lets users insert citations or references to other works within a Word document.

This will help if you plan to deploy Office to a variety of different users. For example, if you have one group of users that will only need the basics, you might create one .MSP installation file. Then you could create another for users that require Access 2007. When you install Office, the Setup application looks in the Updates folder to see if there's a customization file present. If so, it will apply those settings. You can, however, change the location. Setup will check by specifying a different location when you run the command.

There's little doubt that deploying Office 2007 will take more time and forethought than previous versions of Office. To help with your deployment efforts, you should check out additional documentation from Microsoft found in the Microsoft Office Resource Kit, which is also a free download. This kit provides all the documentation and tool sets you need for planning and deploying your Office 2007 system.

Figure 2
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Figure 2. With the new Ribbon interface, formatting options are more accessible in Office 2007.

Microsoft has also just released the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007 (BDD 2007) to help you deploy Vista and Office 2007. While the primary focus of the documentation and applications provided by BDD 2007 is Vista, Office 2007 is included in the BDD Workbench to help you build the source share, as well as create and structure the application screens. There's a step-by-step overview of Office 2007 deployment considerations in the Office Update Feature Team Guide.

Working Together
Working with Office 2007 is going to be the same experience for your users whether they're in the office, on the road or at home. You won't need any corporate infrastructure to run the standard Word, Excel or PowerPoint tools. Infrastructure comes into play only when delving into the collaboration tools.

Figure 3
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Figure 3. The SmartArt tools in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 bring help for the "artistically challenged."

In the past, collaboration meant e-mailing documents back and forth or keeping them on a server so many people could share access. The word "collaborate" will soon take on a whole new meaning.

A key example of modern collaboration is SharePoint Services. These services run on your Windows 2003 network servers. SharePoint lets your users share documents, calendars and contacts; discuss matters online; and even hold meetings. You can configure and establish SharePoint sites that permit access by specific groups of users. You can also store documents in "libraries," where they're tracked by SharePoint to indicate who worked on them last, what development phase the document is in and so on.

If you don't already have a SharePoint server on your network, you really should get one soon. You're going to need one. The third installment of SharePoint (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, aka MOSS) is a logical choice and will give you the latest features available under Office 2007. (Keep in mind that there's often some confusion between Windows SharePoint Services, currently in version 3, and SharePoint Server.)

Figure 4
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Figure 4. You can "publish" PowerPoint 2007 slides to any of several destinations.

The engine is the same for SharePoint 2003 and 2007. However, SharePoint 2007 has enhanced practically every other feature from the 2003 version and added many new features. To make the most of your Office 2007 deployment, it's also best to make the move to SharePoint 2007.

Depending on the size of your organization, you'll either need a single SharePoint Server or a SharePoint farm. The services are installed on a Windows 2003 server (make sure you have all the latest service packs and updates) with IIS 6.0 configured to use the ASP.NET component. Install SQL Server (preferably 2005, but you can use SQL Server 2000 with SP4). You'll also need to install the Windows Workflow Foundation from the Microsoft Web site. There are a variety of other steps to fulfill prerequisites. Once you complete them all, you can proceed with the MOSS install.

Serving Up Excel
Another new Office-specific feature in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 is Excel Services, which gives users a secure way to share spreadsheets. It dynamically renders spreadsheets as HTML, so others can view them through a Web browser. They can also use their Web browser to interact with the spreadsheet -- adding data, navigating, sorting and so on.

Figure 5
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Figure 5. Excel 2007 has vastly improved and more accessible data-management functionality.

Excel 2007 also supports Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services. Through Excel 2007, you can build custom reports from OLAP databases, easily connect to external data sources through the Data Connection Library and more. Excel is also a key application to the new PerformancePoint Server 2007 because your users can manipulate data through Excel, thus reducing the learning curve to working with a new type of business-modeling software.

Figure 6
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Figure 6. You can present data just about any way you need to with Excel 2007's formatting toolset.

Changes to Exchange
To use Outlook 2007, you don't absolutely need Exchange 2007. Without it, though, you'll be missing out on all the latest and greatest features. For example, Unified Messaging promises to let Exchange 2007 route voice messages and faxes directly to your inbox. With both installed on your network, you can set up different messages when you're out of the office -- one for your internal network and one for those outside the company.

Figure 7
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Figure 7. The calendar overlay in Outlook 2007 gives you a clear view of your schedule.

The Instant Search features are integrated between Outlook and Exchange as well. You also have advanced sharing capabilities that let users easily share calendars, task folders and contact lists. Additional security features include E-mail Postmark technology and anti-phishing tools that work off the Exchange server.

As with any application though, Exchange 2007 included, you have to meet certain requirements before installing on your network. This includes ensuring that you've properly prepared Active Directory. In the case of Exchange 2007, you'll need to ensure your AD's domain functional level is set to Windows 2000 native mode.

Figure 8
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Figure 8. Outlook 2007 lets you sort, add and delete RSS-feed links as easily as if they were e-mail messages.

The Schema master and Global Catalog servers need to run on Windows 2003 Servers with SP1. If you're already running Exchange Servers, keep in mind that Exchange must be in native-mode. What this means is say goodbye to any Exchange 5.5 servers still in your network. You'll have to upgrade them to 2000/2003 Exchange servers or remove them completely.

Serving It Up
By now, it's probably becoming clear that the new Office System is as much a server suite as a traditional client suite. Some of the other new or less familiar servers include:

Groove Server: Included in some of the higher end versions of Office 2007, Groove lets teams use workspaces to work together wherever they go. It may sound similar to SharePoint Server, but Groove enables a more personal level of collaboration. Documents are updated immediately between team members, who can work on them and notify each other immediately and safely through always-on file encryption. To make all of this work properly requires Groove Servers, which come in three different flavors (Manager, Relay and Data Bridge). These three server applications are installed separately and make up Groove Server 2007.

Forms Server: Works with SharePoint Services 3.0 to let users fill out forms created with Office InfoPath 2007. InfoPath 2007 lets your users easily create electronic forms. Previously, you would fill these out with the InfoPath client program (and you still can). With Forms Server, you can fill out these forms using a Web browser. This allows a wider use and provides a way to centrally locate and manage forms.

Live Communications Server: An Instant Messenger server that functions outside the network, it allows immediate communications between team members or business associates, and permits VoIP connectivity. It does all of this in a secure way without going through VPN.

PerformancePoint Server: This is a performance management application that allows for scorecarding, analysis, planning, forecasting, consolidating and reporting. You can create plans, detailed budgets and consolidated forecasts, all from one centralized location. I like to call this server Dilbert Server 2007.

Project Portfolio Server 2007: Lets you create project portfolios for single or multiple projects. Through the portfolio, you have centrally hosted workflows you can connect to from anywhere through your browser. Portfolios can also help with centralized data aggregation, with regard to project planning and implementation.

Project Server 2007: Centralizes project management and coordination. You have tools like budget tracking, resource tracking and activity plan management. Much like the other 2007 servers that work with Office 2007, you can get to your data through a browser.

SharePoint Server for Search 2007: This lets you build an intranet or Internet search solution immediately. You can always upgrade these to full SharePoint functionality in the future.

To really be fully prepared to deploy any of these services, you have to know what each one does and what it will take to deploy them in concert with Office 2007.

Training Time
Obviously, training is an essential part of any deployment. It's usually best to train your people prior to introducing new tools into the workplace. This goes a long way toward preventing that "deer in the headlights" look you'll see on their faces when they log in for the first time.

There's certainly no lack of options to training for Office 2007 or Vista. There's outsourced training, in-house instructors and so on. You might try a lab room where your users spend a defined period of time getting comfortable with the new interface. You might also try Microsoft's new virtual training engine that lets users work with a variety of products over the Internet.

You'll have to think about what direction you want to take with Office 2007 in your organization. You'll also have a full plate with the required preparations. Ultimately, it will all be well worth the effort. And it will all run more smoothly thanks to you first laying the groundwork.

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