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."
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 OpenOffice.org Projects free OpenOffice.org 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."
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."