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Office 2010: Upping the Stakes for IT Orgs?

How should IT shops plan now that Microsoft has made noise about its latest productivity suite, Office 2010?

Many organizations are still considering the leap from Office 2003 to the current Office 2007 product, which introduced a "ribbon" user interface that some users have found confusing. The ribbon arose as part of Microsoft's Fluent UI initiatives and was added to Office 2007 after Microsoft determined that the old menu system was too sprawling.

For Office 2010, Microsoft plans to add a "new UI" across all applications, including the recently introduced Office Web applications, according to a Microsoft blog. The blog promised that the new UI will not be "as drastic a change as from 2003 to 2007" Office versions.

According to Michael A. Silver, vice president and research director at Gartner, Microsoft is planning to add the ribbon Fluent UI to Outlook and OneNote in Office 2010. Those applications previously lacked that UI in Office 2007.

It may seem too soon for planning, as Microsoft rolled out a limited technical preview of Office 2010 only last week. However, Silver has already provided advice in a white paper, "Changes in Microsoft Office 2010 Require Careful Evaluation." Silver suggested that licensing and support will be key considerations.

Organizations lacking Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing option should consider skipping Office 2007 and going straight to 2010 when it becomes available, Silver wrote. Microsoft has been projecting the general release of Office 2010 in the first half of next year.

One factor to consider is that security-fix support for Office 2003 will continue until 2014, according to Silver. Extended support for Office 2000 ended earlier this month.

Enterprises should also continue to monitor productivity suites from other vendors, such as Sun Microsystems (OpenOffice.org), Google, Zoho, Corel and others, according to Silver. Some of those applications are free to consumer users.

Office 2010 will include new Web-based applications. Those Office Web apps will have a subset of features that will be adequate for some users, according to Silver. There will be free online ad-based versions of Office 2010 apps, as well as versions that can be hosted by enterprises, Silver explained.

The newest version of Office will be aimed at providing a better user experience for customers who have multiple Office-like choices, along with limited budgets for new software, according to Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish, in her blog.

"Winning the consumer market will be pivotal for Microsoft to retain its dominant market share for Office productivity tools, along with attracting laggards that have thus far avoided upgrading to Office 2007," stated McLeish in an e-mail. "To date, free apps haven't taken a critical mass of market share away from Microsoft but they have put significant cost pressure on the Office business unit."

Microsoft's emphasis on hosted apps comes at the right time. Forrester is predicting software sales being down by five percent in 2009, while software-as-a-service (SaaS) product revenues will grow by 7.5 percent in 2010, according to McLeish's blog.

McLeish says that the success of the free productivity suites has forced Microsoft to offer free lightweight versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel online in hopes of reigning in potential defectors.

"It's a win-win for consumers as the competition ratchets up between providers vying to be the vendor of choice," said McLeish. "But really, what drives adoption is not just an app being free but its utility, accessibility and ease of use."

A study by McLeish suggested that some IT organizations may hold out on their Office upgrade plans for the arrival of Office 2010.

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.

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