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Reasons to be cheerful about Office 12?

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One of the “opportunities” that awaits resellers in 2006 is the release of Microsoft Office 12 (O12); that’s if Microsoft’s timescales don’t go haywire (so no promises). Is there anything to get excited about or this going to be just another expensive upgrade with all the menu options moved around and plenty of new features you won’t know about and if you did wouldn’t use anyway?

Well that’s the cynical bit over with. But it is safe to say that although Microsoft Office is used by 95 per cent of European businesses as their main tool for document creation and editing O12 will not be an option on a huge number of desktops where businesses are still using pre-Windows XP versions of the Microsoft operating system. So, there is a pragmatic reason not to get too excited.

But if there were some compelling benefits coming with O12, that might just be the motivation the laggards need to upgrade the operating systems as well as their office tools. There are indeed two broad areas of benefits where reseller might persuade their customers to take notice.

The first is collaboration. Nothing new here, businesses already have plenty of ways for their employees to collaborate, but given that 95 per cent of business are using Microsoft Office on the desktop the ease of collaborating with its component tools has been pretty limited to date (with the obvious exception of emailing each other from Outlook via the Exchange server).

O12 aims to change that. The level of collaboration between users of Word, Excel and PowerPoint will be raised to a new level. That is because all the sharing of templates, libraries etc. will be done via Microsoft’s Sharepoint Portal server. Another cost for businesses (or opportunity for resellers) perhaps, but on the plus side, Sharepoint is already widely used. Over the last few years it has established a clear lead and the only vendor keeping up with it is IBM, the independent portal companies all now having disappeared. So, for many it will be an upgrade cost rather than a new licence.

The second area where O12 offers new opportunities and businesses may be tempted to upgrade is in the area of business intelligence (BI). In the past BI vendors have seen their users as being a rather select bunch – a few high brow managers, for who the business will pay over the odds to give the right BI tools to enable decision making. But all employees have to make decisions. O12 aims to democratise BI by making it available to the masses at low cost. It will be embedded as part of the O12 suite. Decisions lead to survival, so enabling better decisions to be made at a lower level in organisations has to be seen as a good opportunity by right-minded management.

So, perhaps O12 should not be dismissed as just another upgrade, but, at least in two areas discussed above, a quantum leap forward by Microsoft in enabling the humble worker. Of course, you could argue all this should have been done years ago and Microsoft has been holding them back until now. Power to the people!

Bob Tarzey is a service director at Quocirca focussed on the route to market for IT products and services in Europe. Quocirca (www.quocirca.com) is a UK based perceptional research and analysis firm with a focus on the European market.

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