Office 2007 Worries Users

Neither competitors' wares nor new ui appeals to users

It will be an uphill climb for microsoft to push customers into upgrading to the 2007 Office system suite when released later this year, but wooing users away will be equally tough for competitors.

Top on the list of Microsofts challenges: Office 2007s new user interface, which could require extensive, expensive staff retraining, and a new file format, which could create compatibility issues, said analyst Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research, in Washington. "When you introduce something new, it disrupts, and this increases things like help desk costs and employee downtime," Wilcox said.

Customers such as Robert Rosen, CIO for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, in Bethesda, Md., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, said the new look and feel "will slow up adoption significantly."

But Chris Schneider, senior marketing manager for Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, in Redmond, Wash., said Microsofts analysis indicates the learning curve is small, "so we dont anticipate an impact to peoples productivity." Microsoft also plans to add "lots of new kinds of training," Schneider said.

Backward compatibility was 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 use, Schneider said.

Enterprises also are increasingly pondering whether staff could use alternatives such as Sun Microsystems StarOffice and the Projects free distribution, said Kyle McNabb, an analyst with Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

Ed Benincasa, a vice president at FN Manufacturing and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, is checking out the alternatives. The company is moving some functions to Linux and must find an alternative to Microsoft Office, Benincasa said. FN has already deployed OpenOffice in limited production.

Persuading users to upgrade wont be easy. That was 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 said.

But Microsofts Schneider disagrees. "Were seeing strong traction of Office 2003 among customers across all the segments we track," he said.

Still, getting customers to ditch Microsoft Office is no easy task. Tom Miller, the IT director for FoxHollow Technologies and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, said the companys program to look at alternatives factors in issues such as time, resources and compatibility. So far, FoxHollow has decided to stay with Microsoft Office.