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Office 2013 Migration Advice Comes Under Fire

IT organizations may get "serious headaches" from following Microsoft's recommendations for migrating to Office 2013, according to a report issued this month by ConverterTechnology.

Nashua, N.H.-based ConverterTechnology is a Microsoft partner with a gold competency in application development. The company also specializes in Windows and Office migration solutions for large enterprises. In a report, the company took Microsoft to task for its Office 2013 migration recommendations.

Microsoft's Assessment Process
Microsoft recommends that organizations considering Office 2013 undergo the following four-step compatibility assessment process, as detailed in its Office 2013 Compatibility Guide:

"Discover: Discover what is being used, by whom, and how often. Documents and solutions that are used frequently and by multiple users are likely candidates for compatibility testing.

"Rationalize: Partner with business groups to identify what's critical to the business. The data that you find during the discovery phase can help jumpstart this discussion. The goal is to identify the business-critical documents and solutions that have to be ready on the first day of your Office deployment.

"Validate: Start a pilot deployment where users test the documents and solutions that are required to run the business by using Office 2013. We call this user acceptance testing. Proactively troubleshoot any issues that occur for 'Day 1' documents and solutions.

"Manage: Deploy Office and continue to monitor your documents and solutions. Watch for trends in Office 2013 performance and behavior as updated Office solutions are deployed. Use your Help Desk resources to troubleshoot issues as they occur for non-business-critical documents and solutions."

To help organizations in this process, Microsoft advises installing Office 2013 along with the Office Telemetry assessment tool. Telemetry works by making a record of Office files, add-ins, templates and apps whenever they trigger an error in Office 2013. It also keeps track of inventory and how frequently files are opened, closed or used. IT pros can view the Telemetry data on an Excel sheet. Microsoft offers an infograph of how Telemetry collects data here.

The Trouble with Telemetry
In a report titled, "Embrace Office 2013, But Avoid Microsoft's Migration Strategy" (.PDF), ConverterTechnology identifies two points in Microsoft's Office 2013 migration recommendations that could potentially lead to problems for organizations.

First, the company said Microsoft's Telemetry tool does a poor job of identifying file compatibility issues well ahead of time.

"Microsoft, utilizing Telemetry, is actively promoting a process that goes against common best practices when companies begin upgrading to Office 2013," ConverterTechnology wrote. "[T]he way Telemetry needs to be set up to monitor Office file use may be problematic for some companies. File testing is done passively by the Telemetry agent, which needs to be installed on individual desktops. This requires the agent to 'monitor' file usage over a period of time to create a heat map of potentially problematic files for that specific user."

The entire process of identifying which files are incompatible can take upwards of six months, according to ConverterTechnology -- much longer than the one or two months of testing the company says Microsoft recommends.

Click-to-Run Critique
The second problem ConverterTechnology identifies involves Office 2013's Click-to-Run installation tool. Click-to-Run streams components of Office 2013 to users' PCs during the installation process, letting them access the product before it is fully installed. It also gives users a virtualized environment to simultaneously run Office 2013 and an older version of the suite.

For the "Validate" part of its recommended migration process, Microsoft urges organizations to set up a user-acceptance testing period to encourage users, especially those with business-critical files, to begin using Office 2013. The testing environment should be as close to the production environment as possible and easy for users to access, Microsoft advised. For organizations that do not already have a testing environment set up, Microsoft urges them to use Click-to-Run's virtualization technology.

"Click-to-Run provides all the benefits of testing in production without all the risk," according to Microsoft's Office 2013 Compatibility Guide. "Installing Office 2013 by using Click-to-Run allows users to run their earlier versions of Office alongside Office 2013. If a problem or incompatibility arises, users can still do their work by using the earlier version of Office."

ConverterTechnology argues that letting users run two versions of Office in one desktop can lead to a myriad of IT support problems.

"Most IT professionals would agree: No enterprise should support two versions of Office within one build on a desktop and tell users to just use the older version if Office 2013 does not work properly with a file (assuming that the incompatibility is obvious to the end user)," the company wrote in its report. "Imagine the absurdity of taking this mitigation approach with an ERP application or a new website!"

However, Microsoft does take care to note in its compatibility guide that running different versions of Office concurrently should only be a temporary solution for testing purposes, and not a long-term setup.

Inevitably, ConverterTechnology's report presents its own migration solutions as alternatives to Microsoft's recommendations. ConverterTechnology describes its offerings as "proactive file testing to identify at-risk files followed by automated file remediation, combined with a self-service portal for end-user nominated file testing."

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the site editor of RCPmag.com.

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