Is $99 too much for Office 2010?

Have you used the beta of Office 2010? I have. It's incredibly slick, well-done software.

Have you used the beta of Office 2010? I have. It's incredibly slick, well-done software. I really like Office 2007, but 2010, even in beta form (much as Windows 7 beta was to Vista) is a real leap ahead. The interface is polished and it has everything a power user could want, from Access to Word. Microsoft announced pricing for it today and, while volume licensing hasn't been hammered out, the academic version of Office 2010 Professional looks to be running $99 a pop. Upgrade pricing won't be available for current Office 2007 users.

I've asked before if Office is good enough to pay for.

...even I can’t deny that Office 2007 is worth the money, at least for a subset of users, as I look over at the document I was creating when I started this post, not in OpenOffice, not in Google Docs, but on a spare PC using Office 2007 because it was the right tool for the job.

This will remain true for Office 2010...for a small subset of users. However, if those users already have 2007 licenses, is it worth the upgrade? For $99 (or even $79, if we assume volume academic licensing will be cheaper), I can buy a toner cartridge. Or a bunch of e-books. Or send a user to a conference. Or buy a digital camera for a class. A few licenses will get a classroom a slick new device or two coming out of CES.

I spent the day in brutal budget meetings. My business manager joked, noting that a few of us happened to be wearing red, that people wouldn't notice the blood stains from a first difficult pass through budget lines that we slashed to save money. With staff and programs as our top priorities, it becomes very difficult to justify any expenses that don't directly contribute to teaching and learning. Does Office 2010 help us educate kids better? If secretaries and other power users are already adeptly doing their jobs with the excellent 2007 version of Office, does an upgrade help them do their jobs better?

And more importantly, is there any reason not to phase out Office altogether for the average user and leverage Google Apps? OpenOffice would do the trick, too. I know that Microsoft is rolling lots of technology into their 2010 products (SharePoint and Office especially) and will be upping the value proposition for their Live@Edu and other educational offerings. However, no matter how much I like Office 2010, there won't be any upgrades happening this year (or the next, for that matter). I just can't rationalize it, whether 2007 keeps doing the job or my users embrace the free Google Edu Apps for their document creation needs.

I can't expect Microsoft to give away Office to schools - this is a cash cow for them. However, deep upgrade discounts for educational institutions or drastically lower volume academic pricing would go a long ways towards keeping their desktop productivity software alive in budget-strapped schools as their own cloud implementations mature and competitors crank out the feature improvements.