Microsoft held a major launch event this week to unveil Office 2010--the latest release of it's venerable and dominant office productivity suite. As with any major product release, Office 2010 has a variety of new and updated features, but do any of them offer a compelling reason to invest in upgrading to it?
Google has made some bold claims this week in suggesting that businesses forgo the pain and expense of upgrading to Office 2010 and instead use Google Docs as a cloud-based, collaborative, complement to the existing version of Office. The reality, though, is that Google Docs is not in the same league as Microsoft Office.
If you take Google Docs out of the equation, what you're left with is a choice between keeping the Microsoft Office version you already have, or upgrading to Office 2010. The question is, should you?
My PCWorld peer Preston Gralla has already done an exhaustive breakdown of the improved features and new capabilities of Office 2010, so I won't rehash that. Gralla sums up his assessment of Office 2010 "If you mainly use Word and Excel, you might think twice about paying to upgrade or buying the suite for the first time. But if you need to get a better handle on e-mail or want to create better presentations, buying the new version of Office is a no-brainer."
I have three reasons, though, that I think businesses of all sizes should seriously consider transitioning to Office 2010.
1. Social networking. Social networking has quickly become established as a virtually ubiquitous form of communication. The challenge facing most business professionals, though, is how to effectively and efficiently manage the overwhelming volume of tweets and status updates.
Microsoft FUSE Labs has Spindex--a tool which can aggregate various social network accounts and provide a unified interface for managing them, but Office 2010 has something even better for business professionals--Outlook Social Connectors.
A customer or partner might belong to multiple social networks, making it complex and cumbersome to keep track of the various communication threads. Logging in to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social networks one by one to stay up to date with current updates and communications from that contact is inefficient.
Outlook with social connectors resolves most, if not all, of those issues. Rather than providing a single console for all social networking, like Spindex, Outlook Social Connectors provide a single view across all social networks for a given contact, enabling much more efficient and engaging communications.
2. Unified communications. Microsoft already has a strong unified communications presence with Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, but that was just the beginning. Office 2010 includes a variety of new features that integrate unified communications functionality into almost every aspect of the productivity suite.
Presence information extends into Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. If a user is reviewing quarterly financial details for a project and has a question, he can see in a glance whether or not the spreadsheet author is currently available, and initiate a voice call, e-mail, instant message or other communication with a single click.
3. The grass really is greener. I remember when I had 56k dial-up access and I thought it seemed adequate for my needs. I couldn't understand why people were paying the higher cost for DSL or cable broadband...until I used it. Once I got a taste of broadband Internet speeds, using that "adequate" 56k dial-up connection was painful.
The list of improvements and new features in Office 2010 is impressive. But, looking at the list on paper may lead many to think "those are cool bells and whistles, but they aren't enough to make it worth investing in Office 2010".
For some of the bells and whistles, that may very well be true. However, its not the checklist of features that matters--it's the synergy of the whole. Features that may not seem compelling on paper still make an intangible contribution that help users communicate more efficiently, and work more productively.
With Microsoft, pricing is never black and white. So, the true cost of upgrading will vary greatly depending on the size of your organization and the licensing agreement it has with Microsoft. I will see Gralla's Outlook and PowerPoint justifications, though, and raise him social networking, unified communications, and intangible synergy to say that almost any organization will find a move to Office 2010 to be a worthwhile investment.