Microsoft’s planned changes to the user interface of the next version of Microsoft Office suite may increase productivity, but they will complicate migrations to the next version of Windows, said analyst Gartner.
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The next version of Office, codenamed “Office 12”, is expected to ship within three months of the introduction of the next version of Windows, Windows Vista, said Gartner. Vista is expected to be commercially available towards the end of 2006.
The planned changes to the user interface are intended to make it easier for users to make use of new features and many of the existing features that are already contained in the product suite.
The changes also include a new interactive taskbar that will change in line with an individual’s use of the software.
Gartner said the new features and their accompanying application programming interfaces (APIs) will be part of Office rather than Windows. The analyst said this will enable application developers writing for Office to easily implement their own features.
However, developers writing Windows applications will need to re-create the user interface if they want a similar look in their applications.
Gartner said that while the new user interface will excite many users, those who have trouble accepting change — and advanced users who know where to find all the commands they need — will likely have the most difficulty adapting.
Gartner said that many IT organisations are likely to feel that, in the short term, they will have to train users on the new user interface, and will experience an initial increase in help desk calls.
In addition, said the analyst, because of the magnitude of the changes expected with Office 12, IT departments may have trouble supporting a mixed Office environment, adding to the difficulty of handling a phased implementation on new PCs.
Gartner said that while user interface changes can benefit user productivity, most IT organisations have trouble quantifying and including these benefits in business cases.
The analyst said that companies that can quantify significant benefits for their high-performance users should consider early deployment of Office 12.
How companies should handle Office 12:
Windows Vista testing and deployment projects in 2007 and 2008 will mean that most companies will consider deploying Office 12 with or after the Vista migration.
All companies should demand suitable testing tools from Microsoft when they test the second Office 12 beta version, to reduce the risk of application and macro failure.
Companies that are using Exchange e-mail with Office XP or older versions, and plan to stay on Windows XP and skip Windows Vista, should consider deploying Office 12 on Windows XP as early as 2007.
Companies that are conservative adopters of new technology should consider waiting until Windows Vista is deployed, possibly skipping Office 12 entirely and letting other companies discover any potential weaknesses or flaws.