Wait and See—Or Just Wait?

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2003-10-06

Wait and See—Or Just Wait?

Two years after many enterprises decided to pass on Office XP, IT managers running Microsoft Corp.s Office 2003 through its paces said the new release has enough exciting, essential features to make it a more compelling upgrade.

"If you look at the feature set, there are substantial improvements and innovations that are certainly not there in Office XP," said Bruce Brorson, director of IT at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "For us, it looks like Microsoft has a winner here. I like the direction Office 2003 has taken because the XML support is important."

This doesnt mean all IT managers are itching to upgrade, however. IT staffers at many organizations said they will continue to test the suite through the end of this year before widely deploying it. Microsoft executives said they expect a large percentage of enterprise customers to pilot Office 2003 over the next year. And IT managers at enterprises that use only the basic functions of Office—such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint—said the new features in Office 2003 may not be worth the upgrade and training costs.

"We use few of Offices features beyond basic word processing, spreadsheet and some database functionality," said Sam Inks, director of IS at Atlantic Research Corp. and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, in Gainesville, Va. "In fact, were it not for some file-format incompatibilities, wed probably be happy using Office 97 forever."

Organizations are often slow to upgrade to new Office releases. According to an informal survey conducted last year by research company Gartner Inc., Office 97 accounts for at least 30 percent of Microsofts productivity suite installed base today. Along with software-licensing costs, IT organizations must also consider deployment and user training costs.

So Far, So Good

So Far, So Good

At the University of Minnesota, Crookston, Brorson said that a team has been testing Office 2003 Beta 2 since March and that team members have liked what theyve seen so far. The redesigned Outlook client, which is now equipped with a spam filter and a "research task pane" to parse data quicker, is a main driver for the upgrade, he said.

Despite migrating his users to Office XP a mere two years ago, Brorson said his volume licensing agreements with Microsoft make the upgrade to Office 2003 economical, and the enhancements in the new suite are important enough to justify the migration.

Brorson said he expects to migrate 1,200 students and approximately 350 faculty and staff members from Office XP to Office 2003 Professional Edition during the December break or at the end of the school year in May.

Many other organizations are biding their time. At the Public Broadcasting Service, in Alexandria, Va., Kenneth Walters, senior director of enterprise platforms and enterprise technology, said an IT team is testing Office 2003. Because PBS headquarters recently migrated its 500 users to Office XP, however, Walters said its likely that PBS will bring Office 2003 into its computing environment only as new desktop machines are leased.

Some enterprises question whether theyll get added value from Office 2003. Inks said Atlantic Researchs use of basic word processing and spreadsheet applications means there is little, if any, incentive for him to jump-start an upgrade to the new release. "We use only basic functionality from our Office software," he said. "In fact, were it not for keeping up with the Joneses, we could probably live with Office 97 for a long time."

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