With Office 2010 set to launch in June, businesses of all sizes are considering if it is worth the money and hassle to upgrade, especially for small and midsize companies that never moved from Office 2003 to Office 2007.
A report from research firm Forrester entitled "A Glimpse at the Best and Worst of Office 2010" lays out the improvements of Office 2010 such as the integration of Office apps on the Web and addition of social networking tools to Outlook, but wonders if Microsoft can deliver on these features.
These Web-based features are brand new, and thus likely to be glitchy, according to the Forrester report. The report also noted that some companies that were interviewed plan to license Office 2010 for some of their workforce but still use free alternatives like Google Docs and Zoho as a complement.
"Even those companies planning to adopt early doubt that Microsoft will make the new online experience completely painless," writes report author Sheri McLeish.
Nevertheless, the Forrester report says that Office 2010 is "boundary breaking" just by finally putting the most well-known Office tools online.
Based on interviews with dozens of IT professionals about their companies' plans for Office 2010, Forrester outlines what businesses will enjoy about Office 2010 as well as the potential headaches the upgrade could bring.
It Breaks Down Old Boundaries
Forrester lists three features in Office 2010 that make it "boundary breaking": The use of SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as Groove) to share and edit SharePoint content both online and offline; easing enterprise security fears by making Office Web Apps available privately as part of a company's license agreement; and integrating social media tools from sites such as LinkedIn in Outlook through Outlook Social Connector.
These new integration features — if they work smoothly — give Microsoft an upper hand over more established online productivity suites like Google Apps and Zoho, according to the Forrester report.
Simplified Suite Options for Enterprises
There are seven total editions of Office 2010, but for volume licensing customers (mostly enterpruse-size companies), Microsoft has reduced that amount to two: Standard and Professional Plus. This is half as many as Office 2007 (Ultimate and Enterprise editions have been eliminated).
Office Professional Plus 2010 will include OneNote, SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove) and Office Web Apps. Office Standard 2010 will include Publisher, OneNote and Office Web Apps. Pricing is not yet available for these non-retail versions.
Forrester states in the report that having fewer volume-licensing suites will reduce confusion and make it easier for enterprise customers to "understand the distinctions between each offering and choose the right suite to meet their organization's needs."
With the volume-licensed editions, businesses with a Software Assurance agreement can host Office Web Apps in a private cloud within the company's firewall, and then give workers access to the apps via the Web. "This should appeal to enterprise buyers wanting to retain more control of security and access," writes McLeish.
The report also notes that Google has plans to provide Google Apps in a private cloud, while Zoho currently offers private cloud installations through partner VMware.
There's a Slew of New Features
The Office 2010 upgrade may be worth it for companies simply because there's a lot of new stuff.
Forrester highlights user interface enhancements such as more command options in Backstage view (the Office logo button used to access Backstage view in Office 2007 has been changed to a "File" tab in Office 2010), as well as more memory with the 64-bit version, links from Word to OneNote, and a feature in Excel called Sparklines that provides bar and line graphs next to data.
The report also cites security improvements to force password complexity, a protected mode for viewing downloaded files, and more control of e-mail threads in Outlook.
For a look at what else is new in Office 2010, click here.
Drawbacks of 64-bit Office
Running the 64-bit version of Office 2010 will have benefits such as utilizing more data and memory, and allowing much larger Excel workbooks, but there are some disadvantages.
Forrester points out that ActiveX controls and DLLs (dynamic link libraries) that were written for 32-bit Office will not work in 64-bit Office. The workaround for resolving these issues is to obtain 64-bit compatible controls and add-ins or to install the 32-bit version of Office 2010.
Also, databases that have had source code removed (such as .mde, .ade, and .accde files) cannot be moved between 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Office 2010.
Click here for more on the advantages and disadvantages of Office 2010.
Technology Integration May Be Clunky
Microsoft had to reengineer the Groove collaboration software from its 2005 acquisition of Groove Networks to rebrand it as SharePoint Workspace. Also, Outlook Social Connector will integrate social networking tools from sites like LinkedIn into Outlook for the first time. So don't expect either feature to be clean and seamless out of the gates, writes McLeish.
Forrester predicts that Microsoft will refine these new collaboration tools in SharePoint and Outlook, but will "continue to face challenges making its broad feature set in Office clean and easy to use."
Programming Code Changes in Office 2010
For developers, the VBA (visual basic for applications) language has been upgraded to support 64-bit, and the Office 2010 Object Model has been updated. So those businesses moving from Office 2003 to Office 2010 may have to deal with old, incompatible programming code.
Outlook may be the most affected as Object Model changes have led to a rewritten MAPI interface and tweaks to the navigation pane. Any business doing large migrations of content in Outlook using macros will have to test to see if they need to rewrite code.
"The key is to plan and test for code compatibility," says McLeish. "No one in IT wants to be the cause of a business disruption because of broken code."