That's the question Peter Galli at eWEEK has focused on in two recent articles that look at both the potential disruption the new version of Microsoft Office will introduce and the potential breakaway some customers may make to alternative office suites. The disruption comes from a new user interface and new XML file formats for Office documents. The potential defection might (or might not) be caused by these factors as well as the expense.
In an article late last week, Galli chronicled some of the reservations being expressed by customers about migration to Office 2007. The concerns range from retraining costs to teach users how to migrate to the radically new user interface to compatibility issues arising from the new XML file formats for standard Office document types to the value of the upgrade versus the cost.
No such article would be complete without introducing the notion that some organizations might take the opportunity to break away from Microsoft's suite and switch to the less expensive alternatives offered by WordPerfect or Sun or even to the free OpenOffice suite. In an article today, Galli recycles the premise and adds cautionary quotes from more customers and analysts who are concerned about the switching costs associated with an upgrade.
The quotes from Microsoft spokesperson Chris Schneider don't do a lot to address the specific concerns expressed by the analysts and customers. While Schneider states that Microsoft's usability testing and feedback from early testers suggest that retraining costs will be less extreme than feared and that the company will be providing "lots of new kinds of training," the FUD surrounding the sweeping interface and file format changes remains. Schneider doesn't help his case much when he argues that Office 2003 adoption has been "strong" when sales figures seem to suggest a more tepid response.
As Microsoft Office continues to evolve, and there is no arguing that Office 2007 is big step in that process, the question continues to arise whether all users require the complexity and cost of a full-blown, premium suite. The tone of the comments from customers in Galli's articles suggests that a number of them are looking hard at this issue and deciding that at least some of their users might be able to do just fine with OpenOffice, ThinkFree Office or another less expensive alternative.
We're still months away from the release of Microsoft's latest offering so it's hard to say at this point whether the user interface changes and focus on usability and productivity will be sufficient to overcome some of these objections. Microsoft is asking its customers to embrace big changes at the OS level with Windows Vista and at the application level with Office 2007. Either of those changes would be significant. Together they represent the biggest roll of the dice ever.