No open and shut case for Office migration

Office 2007 continues to be the focus of discussion here at Big Deal, but the most recent crop of reactions to my postings have shifted from the possible nuisance value of interface changes to the potential upside for OpenOffice, the open-source rival to the desktop suite crown.

Office 2007 continues to be the focus of discussion here at Big Deal, but the most recent crop of reactions to my postings have shifted from the possible nuisance value of interface changes to the potential upside for OpenOffice, the open-source rival to the desktop suite crown.

The notion that any change to Microsoft's policies could spell good news for rival open source products is a popular one (witness the response to a recent story on the end of support for Windows 98), and Office is no exception. "Why pay MS for another "upgrade" when you can do the same thing with OpenOffice 2.x which is available as a free download?" asks one poster. "Also, it's backwards-compatible with the older MS Office files which is more then you could say about the MS version."

Actually, that last point isn't true. While Office 2007 will introduce a new, XML-based default file format, it will still be able to open files saved in the older formats, and save them that way if you prefer. Indeed, administrators in corporate environments will be able to set the older formats as the defaults, useful for companies running a mixture of older and newer Office clients. So no major brownie points there for the open source crowd.

The fact that OpenOffice will have an interface that is, for experienced users, more familiar than Office 2007 will, of course, have training implications. "The requirement of training of existing users to this upgrade negates the argument against training users for OpenOffice use, ignoring the cost difference of course," another respondent wrote. That's a fairer critique, although I've always vaguely suspected that companies don't want to pay for training of any sort if they can avoid it, and have stuck with Office in the hope that their employees have already learnt it before they show up at HR on the first day. But it's true that businesses that do want to invest in their staff will now have less of a familiarity argument to invoke in support of Office.

Another poster raised an interesting issue concerning Outlook, whose single-file PST format has been the cause of many an anguished cry as a heap of emails and contacts go up in smoke. Its lack of an incremental backup system is "hardly the essence of a robust application of strategic importance to any small business," one poster noted.

I've enquired of Microsoft if there's any changes planned on this front -- there's nothing immediately obvious on the topic on the product's site -- and will report back any findings. In the meantime, a quick-and-dirty backup solution is to have a PDA permanently connected, since this will give you a more-or-less instant backup. Yes, you'll be relying on the ever-messy ActiveSync, but it's better than nothing, and has got me out of a crisis more than once.

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