With its confirmation early in September of new zero-day exploits aimed at users of Word 2000, Microsoft gave fresh impetus to enterprise evaluation of alternatives to the companys Office applications.
Microsoft had already spurred buyers to think about their options with the radical user interface redesign of the forthcoming Office 2007. When eWeek Labs looked at the Beta 2 version of this major update in May, we found mildly daunting speed bumps in the new Office button (replacing the long-established File menu) and the dynamic richness of the multitoolbar ribbon that users will now be offered.
Although weve found these new UI elements to be capable and quickly learned, the need for any retraining at all may open doors for other office productivity suite candidates.
High on any sites list will be OpenOffice.org. Our on-site tests of OpenOffice.org at FN Manufacturing in Columbia, S.C., have found negligible training issues. "We have consistently found that users will be comfortable with any differences associated with Open-Office after an hour or two in a classroom environment," said Ed Benincasa, FN Manufacturings vice president of MIS and an eWeek Corporate Partner, during a follow-up interview. (See "Firm deploys OpenOffice—where it makes sense" at eweek.com.)
File-format compatibility remains a crucial concern for FN Manufacturing and for others, including some Labs analysts who like the simplicity of Microsofts WordPad but find it too often inadequate for opening all but the simplest .doc files. Open XML-based formats are years away from giving enterprise sites truly vendor-neutral suites, and online applications such as Googles are limited in capability and have yet to achieve 100 percent availability.
Any decision to replace Microsoft Office for reasons of security or price will have to be sold to users—but it may not require as hard a sell as IT organizations fear.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at email@example.com.