Office 2007: Users Wary of Changes

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-03-02 Print this article Print

Both Microsoft, with issues of a new user interface and file format in Office 2007, and its competitors have work to do to persuade users to choose their respective office suites.

While Microsoft faces a host of challenges in maintaining its market share numbers and persuading customers to upgrade to its 2007 Office System suite of products when released in the second half of this year, its competitors face an equally daunting task of winning users away from Office 2007 and growing their numbers. 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 dont know enough about the benefits of Office 2007, we have not yet developed any plans to move forward."
Click here to read more about the 34 Office suites, programs, servers, services and tools that form the 2007 Microsoft Office family of products. But Chris Schneider, senior marketing manager for Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, told eWEEK that the Redmond, Wash., software maker is hearing differently. Its customer research and the user data received from its technical beta program indicate that the learning curve for the new user interface is small, "so we dont anticipate an impact to peoples productivity," he said. "That aside, we know that user training is an important issue for IT folks, and were going to provide lots of new kinds of training, such as giving IT people customizable training materials." Backward compatibility is the No. 1 priority in designing the new Microsoft Office Open XML file formats, which will make it easier for people to access data regardless of what programs they might be using, he said. An increasing number of enterprises are also looking at who on their staff actually needs suites like Office 2007 and who could be well-served by alternatives such as Sun Microsystems branded StarOffice and the Projects free distribution, according to Kyle McNabb, an analyst with Forrester Research. Ed Benincasa, a vice president at FN Manufacturing in Columbia, S.C., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, is one such enterprise customer. His company has been heavily involved in the evaluation of OpenOffice and, more recently, ThinkFree. "We believe that we will find a combination of product that will meet business needs at the most effective cost," he said. "Since we are moving some functions to Linux, we have to find an alternative to Microsoft Office. We have already deployed OpenOffice in a limited production environment." Click here to read why one analyst believes Microsoft is not in imminent danger of losing much market share on the desktop productivity front to any Linux or open-source competitors. Another major obstacle confronting Microsoft is persuading users to upgrade to Office 2007. That is evidenced by user reluctance to upgrade to Office 2003 from Office XP and even Office 2000. The same could well apply with Office 2007, McNabb noted. "Even though Office 2007 is very innovative and a compelling solution, it is a big endeavor for enterprises to undertake, and many of them are going to sit on the sidelines in 2007 and wait and see and learn from others experiences," McNabb said. But Microsofts Schneider disagrees, telling eWEEK that "while we would agree that our biggest rival is ourselves, were seeing strong traction of Office 2003 among customers across all the segments we track. … The interest were seeing from customers in Office 2007 is reinforcing to us that it will be the biggest, most significant version of Office weve delivered in a decade due to all the innovations were introducing." Next Page: A move to alternatives?

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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