10 burning questions about Microsoft Office 2007

Microsoft Office is no longer one-size-fits-all, but rather a complicated set of programs users can customize, mix and match. But at what cost?

Nearly a year ago, Microsoft released Office 2007 to corporate users and so began the slow and methodical evaluation of the software (unless, of course, you were an early adopter).

With migrations to Vista, which is intertwined with Office, slowly looming on the drawing boards for many companies over the next three years and beyond, here's a look at some of the questions to help pick apart Office and figure out how, when and where it fits into corporate desktop, infrastructure, VoIP and software-as-a service plans, and the target it presents to OpenOffice.org-based suites and >online productivity tools popping up on the Web.

What is different about Office 2007?

Well, this isn't your father's office suite. Office 2007, or what Microsoft calls the Office System, comes in eight versions and contains 15 programs, eight servers and seven services or add-ons. Users don't have to buy or deploy all those pieces, but the days of the Word-Excel-PowerPoint-Access bundle now seem quaint by comparison. With the Office 2007 suite, users can set up content management, integrate with online services, deploy real-time communication tools and other infrastructures using Office system pieces. That means Office is no longer a desktop decision made by the desktop team. It is also an infrastructure decision that ultimately involves IT. And it is a path that must include consideration of how it will integrate with third-party vendors, especially when deployments hit the VoIP level.

What's also different in the interface, most notably the ribbon, which presents commands organized into a set of tabs. The tabs change on the ribbon to display the commands that are most relevant for the specific Office application open on the desktop.

What does this change mean?

Training issues. Be forewarned.

Why so many versions and what do they cost?

Office is no longer one size fits all. Microsoft has customized SKUs to meet specific demands and hopefully stimulate sales. Here are the versions and their prices:

Basic 2007 (no price quote, only available through OEMs), Home and Student (US$149, with no upgrade option), Standard (US$399, or US$239 to upgrade), Small Business Edition (US$449, or US$279 to upgrade), Professional 2007 (US$499, or US$329 for an upgrade), Ultimate 2007 (priced at US$679, or US$539 for an upgrade), Professional Plus 2007 (volume licensing sales only), Enterprise 2007 (volume licensing sales only).

Are there other licensing considerations?

Yes, all of the Office servers, all of the Web access clients (Communicator, Outlook and Project), and the Groove client are only available via volume licensing contracts. Also users will need Software Assurance contracts to have access to the new Office Enterprise 2007 and Office Professional Plus 2007. The main difference between the two bundles is the inclusion of Office Groove in the Enterprise Edition. Both will ship with the Office Communicator client for instant messaging and real-time communications, including VoIP.

How does Office relate to Microsoft's recent unified communications release?

Here's one place where the Office System concept comes into play on the back of the recently released Office Communications Server 2007, the Office Communicator client, and Office pieces including Outlook and SharePoint Server 2007, to name a few. Presence is a cornerstone, allowing instant access to colleagues and collaborators from any file where a name is visible. Integration with VoIP and the Live Meeting Web conferencing server provides voice and video. The message is that Office on the desktop becomes more feature rich when the back-end servers are introduced to the network.

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