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Hopes by Microsoft for quick uptake of Office 2007 based on a redesigned and simpler interface could be dashed - ironically - thanks to its spanking new look.

Most enterprises will wait between three and five years before switching from older editions of Microsoft's suite to Office 2007, to be launched next week, Forrester claims.

Training is one reason, with users apparently requiring "more intense" coaching than expected. Forrester reportedly said most business users will need up to three hours formal training, which will be followed by a drop in efficiency for up to four weeks as they adjust to their new environment.

This will be uncomfortable reading for Microsoft. The company is pegging the combined launches of Office 2007 and Windows Vista on ease of use and productivity gains through its global "People Ready" advertising and media campaign.

Microsoft places great hope on the re-designed interface - the biggest change to Office in years - helping users and speeding uptake.

Office is a notoriously sluggish product to ship, taking years to percolate down through the user base. For example, Microsoft had expected two thirds of its 400 million Office users to be on Office 2003 by the time Office 2007 shipped.

That in itself would mean up to one third of customers were still on the seven-year-old Office XP, or - very probably - something older. Worse, The two-thirds number was the goal Microsoft had hoped to hit way back in 2005, two years after Office 2003 launched. But just 15 per cent of PCs were on Office 2003 in 200. Chris Capossela, then vice president of Microsoft's information worker product management group, told The Register that Office 2003 was "way behind" targets.

Despite years of endless cheerleading by Microsoft about productivity enhancements offered by new features in successive new versions of Office, a great deal is hidden by a confusing interface and the drop-down menus. Functionality is not used because end-users don't know it's there.

To get around this, Office 2007 introduces a "ribbon" interface. At last November's "unofficial" Windows Vista and Office 2007 launch event in London, Microsoft claimed that 79 per cent of customers believed that the new Office 2007 user interface would improve individual's productivity.

But in adopting the ribbon interface, and dispensing with the familiar drop-down menus, Microsoft risks becoming a victim of its own success. For better or worse, Office has shaped our notions of how a PC desktop should look and feel - so much so, that Linux and open source challengers have been undone by not emulating Office. This time, though, it seems Microsoft could lose out itself by changing the traditional Office experience in Office 2007. ®

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