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Top reasons your business shouldn't go to Office 2010 -- yet

Migrating to Microsoft Office 2010 takes planning, time and money. Our expert explains why some businesses should wait to adopt the latest versions of Word and Excel.

I am not a Microsoft Office fan. I've used it for 15 years, but I'm still not a fan and will probably never be one. The reason is simple: The changes from one version to the next not only drive a normal person crazy, but they are also expensive. Despite the many irritating changes made to everything from the color of the cute little icons to the menu organization, Microsoft still has not fixed fundamental problems with Office programs.

There are, of course, some very nice features and time-savers, so a follow-up article will explain why it might make sense to move to Office 2010. In this tip, I will outline my experiences with Office and identify problems with the user interface, Excel and Word.

Maddening menus
In my opinion, the single most irritating thing in any version of any Office product has to be the continual changes to the user interface, affecting features such as menu organization or icon color.

A number of years ago, I attended an MVP conference at Microsoft's Redmond campus. One of the presentations was by the team developing Office 2007. The MVPs ripped on the poor Microsoft folks until I felt a bit sorry for them. Their complaints were nothing new:

  • The menus are too complex. You have to wade through unused features to get to common tasks. For instance, while Word has a lot of advanced features a professional editor would use, they should be hidden from someone doing basic word-processing functions.
  • The menus change so much between versions that users need training, which costs money. One MVP admitted that his company was still on Word v6 because his small company could not afford to train the users on the latest version, and the old version still fit its needs.
  • Productivity of users drops significantly when a new version of Office rolls out.

Microsoft acknowledged this complexity when it traced the history of the toolbar. In the first three versions of Word, there was one toolbar. By Word 2003, there were several hundred. So, the company tried to simplify the ribbon in Office 2007, like reorganizing the house of a hoarder -- the junk is still there, but there is more space in the middle of the floor.

Obviously, that wasn't the answer because in Office 2010, the ribbon is largely changed, and the Office button is gone. See a pattern here? When my co-workers upgraded to Outlook 2007, we challenged those just installing it to see how long it took to find the printer icon. It was not easy.

I'm sure Microsoft has a team of folks trying to improve this. It seems that they design the menu based on the idea that grouping common tasks makes them easier to find. This approach would seem feasible for those who have never touched Office and have never used the existing menus. A whole new set of groups based on new logic, however, is not more efficient for someone who is used to the old menus and groupings. User productivity will suffer. How many help desk tickets will ask, "Where is the printer icon?" But good luck getting data to add to a return-on-investment calculation for an Office upgrade.

I'm not saying that you should not deploy Office 2010, but you should consider several factors that determine when -- or if -- you do deploy it. Here are some general considerations.

Backward compatibility
This is always a problem. People still on 2007 or 2003 versions can't read files from the 2010 version. Users on Office 2010 have to save back into an older format, which could compromise formatting in the file. My advice here is to get the entire organization on one version of each Office product before going to the next. A well-planned deployment to get all users to the same level will reduce the occurrence of this problem.

Excel and Excel macros
Increased security capabilities are desperately needed in Excel. Here are several points:

  • Multiple users require multiple levels of security. Complex spreadsheets for financial reporting are a good example. The financial analysts build intelligence into Excel with sensitive data, such as salaries. Other managers with budgeting responsibility use those spreadsheets, but they should not be able to see sensitive data. This is especially true when Excel data is exported into external databases.
  • Multiple levels of security could be tied to Active Directory rights.
  • Worksheet protection is not security. One good example is a spreadsheet I use that has a lot of intelligence built in and has protected cells. I entered data into a protected cell rather than the one for data entry. The warning said that, in order to enter data in this cell, I'd have to unprotect the sheet. So, I unprotected the sheet, entered the data and wiped out the protected formula. I eventually had to delete that Excel file and start over.

Each time my employer moves to a new version of Excel, it takes several months for the developers to upgrade the Excel macros. This takes time, planning and testing. This would likely be the case for macros in other Office applications, plug-ins and maybe even Word templates. The time needed to test new software will determine when you are ready to roll out Office 2010. Remember that Office 2010 isn't all or nothing -- you can deploy Word and Outlook and leave Excel at 2007, for example.

Track Changes occasionally loses the initials of the person who made a change and substitutes them with the current author's initials. I'm not sure why it does that. This could be a result of moving from Word 2007 to Word 2010.

The Office button charade and needed features
I like the following note from the online help: "The Office Button replaces the file menu."

So, it seems we've come full circle. Now the help file can say, "The file menu replaces the Office Button."

Notice Figures 1 and 2, showing the layout of Outlook and Word, respectively. They are very different, going back to a "tab" look and a reshuffling of actions. In Figure 2, the "recent" list is in the File tab. Frequently used items can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar at the top (green square in Figure 2).

One of the key drivers for any software upgrade is the need for new features. User demand for certain features, such as PowerPivot tables in Excel 2010, may drive early adoption of Excel, for instance. Be sure to separate "nice to have" from "need to have" features.

If you add Office 2010 to a new rollout of Windows 7, users will have to deal with considerable changes. Just when you get users trained on certain navigation features, the features change. These may be easier in the long run, but there will again be a learning curve. It's hard to measure the actual productivity costs -- other than the complaints to the help desk by frustrated users.

Don't force an Office 2010 upgrade on users just because it's the "latest and greatest" version. Some features will affect your organization more than others. It's important to test Office sufficiently in a lab, then run a pilot with a limited number of superusers. Such users can not only put the apps through their paces in production work but are also smart enough to figure things out without logging support calls. This should shorten the evaluation process.

In Part 2 of this series, I'll review Outlook features, user training and what still needs to be fixed. Part 3 will consider positive features that can influence the decision to adopt Office 2010.

Gary Olsen
is a solution architect in Hewlett-Packard's Technology Services organization and lives in Roswell, Ga. He has worked in the IT industry since 1981 and holds an M.S. in computer-aided manufacturing from Brigham Young University. Olsen has authored numerous technical articles for TechTarget, Redmond Magazine and TechNetmagazine, and he has presented numerous times at the HP Technology Forum. He is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and is the founder and president of the Atlanta Active Directory Users Group.

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