Is Microsoft Office 2010 suitable for your business?

Last week Microsoft launched Office 2010, the latest version of their business software suite, promising to “redefine how Australian businesses can use technology to save, innovate and grow.” We’ll be seeing the new version appear on store shelves and bundled with new computers from the end of the month.

Like the last few Office versions, the 2010 edition sees incremental tweaks over earlier releases rather than massive changes. Most of these improvements recognise how peoples’ computer use is changing, with increased emphasis on collaboration and the internet along with more media editing in Powerpoint and data manipulation tools in Excel. The changes are good, but probably not compelling for most business users.

The biggest changes have been in the SharePoint collaboration tools which is where the Microsoft Office franchise is most threatened by cloud computing services like 37Signals, Google and Zoho. For businesses looking at taking advantage of the impressive range of SharePoint 2010 features the backend capital cost of upgrading servers and desktops to meet the needs of the new system will be substantial and there’ll need to be a very good business case for that level of investment.

Upgrading paths are an interesting change to Office 2010, for the first time Microsoft is not going to offer deals to users looking at upgrading to the new version. What this probably shows is how effective Microsoft have been in selling recent versions of Office in OEM packages, where the software is sold cheaply with a new computer with the catch it can’t be used on any other system.

Taking away the price inducement for upgraders will mean most businesses without volume licensing agreements will move to Office 2010 as they replace what was previously bundled with Office 2003 and 2007 suites.

This means there will be a mix of Office 2010, 2007 and, in most businesses, the odd 2003 system, so it will be important to test exactly how Office 2010 will work in your business.

Microsoft have a trial edition of the new package available for download and you should run that on a test system prior to rolling out Office 2010 in your work environment.

A potential problem for early adopters is with file formats; while Office 2010 uses the same names — .docx, .xlsx and .pptx — as Office 2007, there are subtle differences in the data, so setting the new systems to save in the old format is probably going to be the best way to go, although this will disable many of the new features in the 2010 edition.

Promising to redefine how businesses use technology is a pretty big aim and Office 2010 doesn’t achieve that, although it is a solid product that goes some way in recognising how work patterns are changing in the modern connected office. It isn’t a bad buy if you find the older Office versions aren’t available or the free and cloud based alternatives don’t meet your needs.

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Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology issues. He founded national support organisation PC Rescue in 1995 and has spent over 14 years helping businesses get the most from their IT investment. His PC Rescue and IT Queries websites provide free advice to business computer users and his monthly newsletter has over 3,000 subscribers.


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