What is the TCO of Office 2007?

Every time someone tries to discuss migration from Microsoft platform (for example MS Office) to an open source one (ie. Open Office) someone doubtlessly will bring up TCO. The pro Microsoft argument usually goes like this:

Despite being free, Open Office actually has higher TCO because:

  1. Employees need to be trained to use the unfamiliar interface
  2. New default file format that is incompatible with Office 2003 and below means that it might be necessary to install special plug-ins, convert files and etc..
  3. The migration procedure will be more costly than just upgrading to a new version
  4. Embedded macros may not work in the new Office suite
  5. Microsoft guarantees updates, bug fixes and etc – open source projects do not

I would argue that just about every single TCO problem above applies to Office 2007 just as much as it applies to Open Office, Star Office or similar alternatives.

Staff Retraining

If we assume that the jump from say Office 2003 to Open Office is so huge that it needs serious staff retraining then what can we say about the jump to Office 2007? The ribbon interface in Office 2007 is touted as the ultimate paradigm-breaking revolution in the UI design. Perhaps it is, but because of that it is sufficiently different from the familiar Offcie look and feel, that it might seem more alien than Open Office to some. Let’s compare:

Office 2003:

Office 2003

Open Office 2.2:

Open Office 2.2

Office 2007:

Office 2007

The first and second picture are almost identical. They have similar layout of icons (new, open, save, email, etc..) similar pull down menus and etc. Office 2007 changes everything. Some icons are hidden, some are in wrong places, some re gone. Menus do not exist, tool bars are tabbed and etc. I don’t care how intuitive and easy to pick up the ribbon is. Users will have to develop new habits, and new muscle memory. So let me say this:

If you argue that going from Office 2003 to Open Office requires intensive re-traning, then move to Office 2007 must be more costly because. At least Open Office tries to closely mirror the Office 2003 menu and toolbar layout.. If Open Office is not a drop-in replacement for 2003 then neither is 2007.

File Format Compatibility

Office 2007 uses a brand new document format that is not backwards compatible. In fact, my office had experienced a minor crisis when one of the employees started sending his crucial reports in the OOXML format. What happened? The guy simply “finished” his report on his personal desktop instead of the company laptop. Files ended up being saved in new format and no one could read it, which lead to “OMG, my Office broke, how am I going to meet the deadline” support calls back in the main office. Of course we needed to deploy the MS conversion tools, send out memos about the new file format and etc.

So what is the benefit of using OOXML over ODF?

Open Format Yes Kida
XML Based Yes Yes
Native Support in Office 2003 No No
Native Support in Office 2007 No Yes
Native Support in Open Office 2.2 Yes No
Converter/Plugin for Office 2003 Yes Yes
Converter/Plugin for Office 2007 Yes Yes
Converter/Plugin for Open Office 2.2 Yes Yes

In my book they are very evenly matched with respect to value versus annoyance they cause. Both ODF and OOXML will cause countless hours of lost productivity because of conversion and compatibility issues.

Migration Costs

The Office 2007 installation and activation is slightly different than Office 2007. Deployment procedures might need to be altered. Also, if you plan to exchange files with outside world (which is using Office 2003 and below) you might need to force office to save in the compatible formats via 3rd party group policy hacks or manual configuration.

The document format change, and interface changes mean that many in-house customizations won’t work anymore and will have to be re-worked. Office 2007 might have a slight edge here, but it is still a lot of work either way.

Macro Compatibility

Don’t quote me on this, but last time I checked there was at least one ticket in my issue tracking system which dealt with custom Word macros not working in Office 2007. I don’t know the details here, and this might be something trivial – but I wouldn’t be surprised if MS broke macro compatibility with 2003. After all the new Office has a brand new security model so chances are some of the more hackish VBA scripts wont work the way they did.

Can they be fixed and made to work? Time will tell.

Considering all of the above, can you still take the Microsoft’s TCO FUD seriously? Next time someone gives you the TOS pitch ask them about the TCO of Office 2007, and the costs of migration. Unless you really stretch the numbers in Microsoft’s favor, the big gap between the two products just got much smaller. After you count in all the migration costs the prices for licensing Office 2007 almost completely offset the slight advantage might have had over Open Office.

It would be nice to see some independent study on this with some hard numbers to show total cost of migration ot Office 2007 vs. Open Office. But then again, independent studies usually don’t consider fake factors such as TCO so if a study is conducted it will doubtlessly be paid for by MS.

[tags]office 2007, office 2003, open office 2.2, open office, odf, microsoft office, ooxml, office open xml, open document format[/tags]

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10 Responses to What is the TCO of Office 2007?

  1. This will be your first semester teaching office 2007, yes?

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  2. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Sig… Are we teaching them 2007? :( I was kinda hoping that it would still be 2003.

    Oh well. This means that I will have to read through the lab exercises before I make them do them.

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  3. Yep, we’re teaching 2007. The new books also talk about Vista, but we’re still going to be using/teaching with XP.

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  4. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Which reminds me – I still need to grab the books from the office. I will probably stop there tomorrow or Monday.

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  5. You know the table near the stairwell where they sometimes put free books? There’s a sign above it that just says “FREE BOOK TABLE.” Since there is nothing on it, it could be taken as if the book-table is being given away for free.

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  6. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    LOL! Too bad it’s heavy and would be a pain to carry downstairs. :mrgreen:

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  7. I saw a guy who was wearing a shirt that said “open xml developer”… first time i have ever seen it…. he was the reason i came to your blog first because i was searching for a blog that talked about it.

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  8. Aedrin UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Sometimes I wonder how much people are willing to go through just to rebel.

    Yes, bad press everywhere. But the products work fine.

    I (have) use(d) both Vista and Office 2007. Neither had any real problems and both get the job done.

    Sure, it’s not as smooth as Linux, it’s not as secure. Those are the downsides of Windows. Lets not forget there are downsides to both parties.

    There is no reason to keep using Office 2003. Imagine the internet if people stuck with Flash 3, Internet Explorer 2.0, etc.

    If everyone is stubborn because it is cool, then we might as well stop producing electricity and go back to the stone age.

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I completely disagree. There is no reason to use Office 2007 if Office 2003 works for me. Why should I be forced to upgrade just because Microsoft wants to make more money by adding more eye candy, and vendor-lock-in features?

    If I don’t like a product why do I need to buy it? Just because everyone else is using it? Hell no! We still have choice. And my choice is to stay away from Office 2007.

    Actually I stay away from any kind of office as a general rule. The whole WYSIWYG idea is silly. You can’t do any serious work with these kinds of editors. But that’s a whole other story.

    Progress is good, but in this case MS is not really innovating. OOXML is inferior to the ODF, and the ribbon is confusing as compared to the old familiar interface. That’s what it is.

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