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Microsoft Office 2013 is finally here, and there's a version for just about everyone, from light home users to professionals in big companies. But how do you know if this update of Microsoft's entrenched productivity software is a fit for your organization?
The answer comes from asking the right questions. We've put together 10 important ones to get you started. We focused mainly on small and midsize business (SMB) environments, although most of the questions can be sensibly posed in other corporate scenarios as well, from home offices to Fortune 500 shops. If you've already formed your own ideas and tips about the new Office, be sure to share them in the comments section. (If there's one thing that's true of Windows, Office and other Microsoft users, they're not shy with their opinions.)
Office 2013 arrives at a critical juncture for Microsoft and its customers. The fate of the Windows 8 operating system is still to be determined. You need look no further than rumors of a Windows Blue reboot on that front. Moreover, Office 2013 enters a vastly different computing environment than the one that crowned it king of documents, spreadsheets and other currencies of corporate productivity.
For starters, there's the cloud. Software-as-a-service (Saas), online apps -- call it whatever you like, but it has changed the way businesses and individuals buy and use applications. Microsoft is pushing a large stack of chips into the cloud game. In this case, it's in the form of Office 365, the online version of its traditional software. Microsoft's general availability announcement for Office 2013 reads more like a relaunch of the Office 365 platform, which was first released in 2011, and includes three retooled packages for businesses. Office 2013 is, in a sense, a final funeral call for the boxed software of yesteryear. (To wit: The perpetual on-premises version isn't actually available in a box -- a "full package product" in Microsoft terms -- it's cloud or product key card only.) That's especially evident on the SMB front, where Microsoft is pushing Office 365 heavily.
Speaking of cloud, Office 365 faces intensifying competition from Google Apps. Although using Gmail or other Google products doesn't necessarily mean abandoning Office altogether, it does chip away at Microsoft's bottom line. In a recent BetterCloud survey of more than 18,000 Google Apps administrators, more than 60% of respondents said they were scaling back their Office spending as a result of their Gmail or other app usage. This held true across all company sizes.
"While it's easier to get a smaller group of employees to adopt new software, and these organizations are likely more cost-conscious, we were surprised to see relatively similar lack of investment from organizations of all sizes," BetterCloud CEO David Politis wrote in a blog post. There's no real shock in that finding, but it's indicative of the modern era -- Microsoft Office is no longer a given in every office. (Note: BetterCloud has a vested interest here; it makes a management tool for Google Apps called FlashPanel.)
Mobility is another major factor. Office 365 in particular attempts to translate the desktop paradigm for the present-day reality that some users no longer sit at a desk. As a result, mobility is an important factor in your Office strategy. Read on for more on this topic.
What's new? If you want a crash course in the latest and greatest that Office 2013 delivers, check out Jeff Bertolucci's picks for the 10 best features. At least some of those features likely will make their way into your business. If none of the updates make sense for your company and users, that begs another question: Why are you upgrading?
Is Office 2013 right for your business? That's your call. We hope these questions help get your decision-making process off to a level-headed start.
Bid adieu to the box. The CD installations of tech yore are a thing of the past. That said, while Microsoft's marketing machine is revving its engines behind Office 365, you can still get the "traditional" version of Office 2013, although it comes in the form of product key card download. The budget and capital expenditure folks undoubtedly will have their say in this decision: Office 2013 Professional runs $399 for a single perpetual license, whereas the Office 365 Small Business Premium edition -- which includes the full desktop version of Office apps -- can be had for $150 per year, per user. Bear in mind that the lower-tier Office 365 packages for small businesses don't actually include the full-blown versions of Word, Excel or other popular applications.
Volume licensing customers have their own deal with Microsoft. But small businesses, freelance professionals and others who buy their software on a case-by-case basis have a licensing decision to make with Office 2013. It's tied directly to the on-premises-vs.-cloud decision, and Microsoft is not exactly hiding its hopes for which you'll choose. The product key card versions of Office 2013 get you only one license for one machine, and it's not transferable if you upgrade or otherwise change hardware. That's not a change from Office 2010. What is different -- and what has caused a minor Internet kerfuffle -- is the retirement of the full-package product versions, which included multiple transferable licenses. Office 365 subscriptions, on the other hand, cover up to five devices per user. You do the math: Unless you work on the same machine 24-7, Microsoft is essentially giving you a licensing discount to move to Office 365.
If your or your users' PCs look something like the image pictured here -- geriatric hardware, laughably minimal memory and an operating system that's now three versions old -- Office 2013 isn't in your short-term future. Windows XP and Vista users need not apply. Office 2013, including Office 365, requires Windows 7 or Windows 8. So if you're stretching that XP investment for the foreseeable future, you'll have to stretch an older version of Office, too. Likewise, if you're hoping to mash up an Office 365 subscription with an older version of the desktop software, expect some hiccups with Office 2007.
Between Office 365, tight SkyDrive and SharePoint integration and other features, there's no doubt Office 2013 is aiming for mobile workers. (Still no signs of true iOS or Android versions, though.) Although true mobility is big these days, it's worth asking whether your users are actually all that mobile. A field sales rep might benefit from the anytime, anywhere access; a deskbound CPA might be just fine on Office 2010 or even 2007. Ditto deskbound writers: I'm typing this in a well-loved, full-package-product version of Word 2007.
Don't leave your users out of the decision-making equation. Is your staff largely tech-savvy and eager to play and work with the newest software tools? Are they power users who will get the most out of the new features? Or do they freak out at the slightest whiff of change in the wind? Will they need a lot of hand holding?
If backing up your files and other data is one of those exercise-and-eat-right tasks for your business -- things you know you need to do and even want to do, but rarely actually do -- Office 2013 wants to save you from yourself. Office 2013 stores files to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud service as a default setting, a potential boon for the set-it-and-forget-it crowd in the event of a local hardware or network failure. This integration also enables easier sharing -- via SkyDrive, of course -- from within an Office file. Collaborating on those shared files also has become simpler because Microsoft no longer requires users to sign in to edit shared files using Office Web Apps.
Let's assume you make a business case before investing in new technology. (You do that, right?) How are you going to do that for Office 2013? Cloud or mobility might make that case for some; new and improved features also might play a role in justifying the cost and effort. The new release adds touch and stylus support, for instance, although you'll probably need to be a Windows 8 shop to make the most of that upgrade. Office 2013 also features Skype integration, especially with Lync. Want to edit a PDF inside Word? You can do that now, too. Those are just a handful of examples. Microsoft's TechNet site offers a full breakdown of what's new in Office 2013 for IT pros.
SharePoint devotees, especially those jumping on SharePoint 2013, might be apt to align with their broader Office upgrade strategy. Forrester's "Office 2013: A Breakthrough In Productivity" report notes a significant change in application development with the 2013 platform. "For the first time ever, developers will use the same technologies and frameworks to build custom applications using Office -- Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- and SharePoint," the report said. "Thus, application skills, tools, and life-cycle management environments can be converged, and code can be used in both Office and SharePoint."
Microsoft releases a new version of Office every three years, give or take. And of course Windows is not a static beast; the minute you finish you an OS migration it seems like you're suddenly at least two versions behind again. If you just finished moving to Office 2010 (pictured), for instance, you might not be too eager to kick off a 2013 project right away. The question, then, is what is your long-term upgrade strategy? Will you move through the versions in order, regardless of the actual year? Will you skip every other release? How does this align with your overall business strategy? Moving to Office 365 is one answer; as long as you keep paying the bill, Microsoft's going to keep updating it on a semi-regular basis. Still, it's worth developing a plan; otherwise, you might find yourself stuck on the upgrade treadmill.