One of the questions for IT managers looking at Windows Vista and Office 12, whether together or separately, is how badly they want to support the new user interfaces and technologies the software presents.
Most IT departments Im familiar with are still running a mix of Windows 98, 2000 and XP, each with its own version of Office.
Are the benefits of Vista and Office 12 worth the complexity they add to such an environment?
While I realize that Vista and Office 12 are separate products, they are likely to ship at about the same time, later this year. Many companies will acquire Vista as they purchase new hardware with the operating system preinstalled. Office 12 may also be part of the package, or at least be available preinstalled at a decent price.
The question will be whether to wipe the hard drive and install Windows XP in place of Vista, or to accept a second, third or even fourth Microsoft OS into our midst. For Office 12, the question is whether its worth adding a new and very different user interface and file format into the corporate mix.
I have been playing with the current beta versions of both Windows Vista and Office 12. Despite crashes (and Microsofts warnings), I have been using Office in production mode. I do not, at present, have Office 12 running atop Vista, nor is Vista part of my Windows Small Business Server network. Outlook 12 is, however, working with my Exchange server.
The two Office applications I use the most are Outlook and Word. Of the two, Word 12 is the most unlike previous releases, and since I use Word as my text editor in Outlook, its changes show up there, as well. I have also played with Excel 12, but dont consider myself an expert in that application.
Right now, Ive decided that Word 12 is mostly just annoying. This may be fixed when it becomes easier to spell check a document without leaving the "write" tab and opening the "review" tab. When all I want to do is write a short document and run it past the speller, having to change tabs is a complexity I dont need.
But, even if that objection didnt exist, Ive found myself wanting to use Office 2003 rather than Office 12. Its probably my decades of experience with it, but the old Office user interface is a familiar tool in my hands. The Office 12 "tabs and ribbons" UI is certainly nice and does make some features easier to find and use, but it just doesnt feel the same.
I wonder how many Office 12 users will find themselves similarly wanting to go back to Office 2003 or Office XP once the newness of Office 12 wears off? Its not that theres anything wrong with Office 12, which does produce better-looking documents more easily than its predecessor, so much as that it doesnt feel right, even after many hours of use.
For the first several weeks, I used Word and Excel 12 exclusively. But over the holidays, I found myself gravitating back to the more familiar Office 2003 environment.
My fear is that Microsoft may have made Office 12 too different from whats come before, though I think the company would have a very hard time selling a 2006 upgrade that didnt offer a very different user experience than its predecessors. There is only so much tinkering you can do before having to wipe the slate.
As Microsoft people say, its biggest competitor isnt someone elses Office suite, its the Microsoft Office you are already using.
Ive already expressed my concern that there isnt very much to Vista besides a pretty face. I am not too bummed about this pending the release, maybe later this month, of a feature-complete beta. I am told there will be new features included that havent been seen before. I sure hope so.
Regardless, the real Vista decision will be based not on cool user features but on whether Vista solves security problems or creates new ones. If Vista turns out to be dramatically more secure than Windows XP, customers will gravitate to it and some will even upgrade existing hardware to the new OS. The cost justification might be easily made.
But a Vista release accompanied by a rash of brand new exploits could relegate the new operating system to the same status as a couple of DOS releases no one remembers (or purchased) or maybe Windows ME, considered by most users to have been Microsofts worst Windows mistake.
Criminals are doubtless delving into Vista right now, looking for cracks. If they are crafty, they wont release their malware until a final version has shipped. Customers will want to give Vista security some time to settle before making a major commitment to the new operating system. Fortunately, at least for corporate buyers, next years holiday computers will likely be Vista machines, giving the bad guys lots of potentially easy targets.
My fear is that the criminals, not you or me or even Microsoft, will really decide Vistas fate as a corporate OS.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.