Microsoft Office 2010: Will you bother to upgrade?

To upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question for most of Microsoft’s customers.

There were times when the latest release of a new version of a major Microsoft product was a huge catalyst for IT spending. Many IT managers will remember planning their strategy around the anticipated timings of future releases and the new functionality they promised. Microsoft’s corporate licensing and pricing policy has traditionally been predicated on the expectation that users will upgrade at least once every three years.

But the reality of technology strategy today is very different – and since the disappointment that was Windows Vista, so are the attitudes of IT managers.

So what are the prospects for Office 2010? After Windows, this is the most used and most financially important product range in Microsoft’s portfolio. While lower-cost alternatives such as Google Apps and Openoffice have made occasional inroads into the market, Office remains the de facto standard productivity suite for most organisations.

But let’s face it, how often do your users come to you and say, “I really need Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint/Outlook to have more functionality.” Most people use only a fraction of the features in Office, so apart from the withdrawal of support for older versions, why go through the pain of upgrading?

Inevitably that will be a question asked by many IT leaders, and it is down to each individual situation to look at the new features and judge whether the business case stacks up.

For Microsoft however, it is a question that goes right to the heart of the product development strategy that has kept the company leading the market for 30 years.

Corporate IT is fed up with the endless version release cycle. In a world of cloud computing, nobody knows or cares – Google can roll out new features overnight; how many users are bothered what version they are on?

By the time Office 2010’s successor arrives, the three-yearly upgrade concept will seem antiquated. This change in customer behaviour and expectation threatens Microsoft’s dominance more than any new functionality improvements from its rivals.