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Microsoft Office 2007 migration aches foreshadow 2010

Pain now, pain later

By Gavin Clarke, 12 Jan 2010

It has been predicted Microsoft's Office 2010 will cause migration headaches, but for some, the pain is already here.

Customers speaking with The Reg are experiencing major delays in their move from Office 2003 to 2007, more than three years after Microsoft released the latest version of its suite.

Problems include having to rewrite and test old VBA Office macros because they won't work in Office 2007, file incompatibilities, major interface changes, and instances where Outlook won't work on different versions of Microsoft's Exchange Server.

And while Microsoft has documented known problems, customers have complained it's the undocumented stuff they are uncovering that's really tripping them up and where Microsoft is not being helpful.

It seems that with 2010 on the horizon, some organizations are either only now moving to Office 2007 or are still struggling with Office 2007 more than three years after it shipped.

Directions on Microsoft managing vice president of research Rob Helm tells The Reg he expects more customers will experience problems as they too make the move to Office 2007.

Helm said some organizations are only now upgrading after postponed the move because of the changes involved.

"Even if you decide on the dawn of Office 2007's arrival to complete a migration, organizations need to find all the macros used for critical tasks and identify a representative sample of files and test them on the new version," Helm said.

He said Microsoft could be doing more to help customers with technical and migration consultation under its Software Assurance (SA) program.

He noted that small organizations that are unlikely to be on SA are also likely to need assistance, as large enterprises will at least have dedicated IT teams that can plan and implement the upgrade.

Architectural engineering consultant Benchmark Group has postponed its Office 2007 rollout three years after it first looked at the migration. It told The Reg the project is on hold because of both documented and undocumented problems with macro and file-format incompatibilities between Outlook and Word. It has also been unable to use Outlook 2007 in mixed Exchange Server 2003 and 2007 environments.

Benchmark, which prides itself as an early adopter of PCs in building design, has had to rewrite each of its 75 macros used by 400 users in mobile, remote, and office-based locations.

Workstation administrator Christopher Blake told us Benchmark had spent "months and months" recoding single macros and still things don't work. "We need the conversion process to happen very smoothly so we are investing a lot of time up front to ensure that," he said.

Today, just 30 per cent of the company's staff has some form of Office 2007 running - such as Word, Excel or Outlook - with just two per cent using the full suite.

MSD Capital said it rolled back to Office 2003 because it had "a lot of heavy Excel users" who'd built their own macros. MSD Capital is an 80-employee, $10bn investment fund set up to manage the capital of Dell founder and chief executive Michael Dell and his family.

MSD's Jason Palatty said: "We have a lot of users who have their own .XLA add ins, but when you use that in Office 07 that broke and we had to roll them back."

More pain ahead?

Helm predicted more organizations like Benchmark and MSD would hit pain as they finally make the move to Office 2007 from Office 2003.

"There where some pretty significant changes from [Office] 2003 to 2007 so those interfaces that macros use to control Office - some of those macros will break coming across," he said. "We are just seeing this problem now because so many organizations decided to sit tight and so many others skipped a version," Helm said.

There are also problems in store for those moving to the up-coming Office 2010 - whether they are coming from Office 2007 or 2003.

Among the changes in Office 2010: a "makeover" of VBA to support 64-bit plus updates to the Object Model. There's also concern over the smoothness of integration between the different Office applications, as Microsoft has added a brand-new Outlook Social Connector and Groove collaboration software has been re-engineered to work as a SharePoint Workspace, according to analyst Forrester Research.

Helm said: "A lot of people looked at the Office file format and UI changes in [Office] 2007 and said: 'We will skip this problem' and now people are really thinking it's time to get on the most current version, and there are people who skipped a version as a matter of course," Helm told us. "Both will be looking at the new Office. We may see more compatibility problems being discovered now than when Office 2007 came out."

Office macros written using VBA are the way people build add-ins to applications like spreadsheets or email systems in their jobs to provide short cuts or features unique to their business.

Often, it's business people who build macros - not engineers - meaning macros tend to mushroom, and it becomes nearly impossible to really know how many exist. Unless you catalog them all, you'll only know there's an issue when an Office upgrade causes breakages and people can't work.

This can breed anger, and in some cases, it will see operations rollback to the old version of Office.

There were significant changes in the code between Office 2003 and Office 2007 in the areas of installation and customization, file format, security, interface, and object model that impact all those Outlook, Excel, Access. Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote staples used by business users.

Microsoft has documented the changes between Office 2003 to 2007 and has published a some migration guide here.

Blake, who is now looking at Office 2010, criticized the company's work. "Microsoft has only responded to the known issues. We are trying to report unknown issues, but they have not been very useful." He criticized Microsoft for releasing add-ons to solve some problems that are not included as part of the core product and make working with clients and co-consultants hard.

With Office 2010 coming in the first-half of this year, the company has also released an application compatibility assessment guide and a set of recommendations for moving to Office 2010.

Helm said that while Microsoft had done a "pretty good job" on documenting known issues, the company could make technical and migration consultation available under its SA volume-licensing-related program.

"It has a program where customers who are on SA can get consulting time and the consulting time is generally about evaluating Office 2010 and making the business case for it. Some of that time might be better spent evaluating the customer's existing environment and helping make the move," Helm said. ®

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