Upgrading to Office 2010 has its 'pitfalls,' report finds

IT organizations need to plan for Office 2010 upgrades, which may require setting up user support aids and addressing file compatibility issues beforehand, according to a new report by Forrester Research.

IT organizations need to plan for Office 2010 upgrades, which may require setting up user support aids and addressing file compatibility issues beforehand, according to a December report published by Forrester Research.

The report, "Pitfalls To Avoid When Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2010," suggests that migration pains will be greatest when moving from versions earlier than Office 2007. For instance, Office 2007 shares the same "ribbon" menu system as Office 2010. Microsoft also started using its Office Open XML document format with Office 2007. Those two aspects represent big changes from earlier versions, such as Office 2003, which retains the more traditional UI and older document formats.

Personnel using earlier Office editions without the ribbon UI, such as Office 2003, may require "30 minutes to an hour of training per app" before getting up to speed with Office 2010. The report recommends setting up online training materials and wikis, among other measures, to provide such training.

IT pros may have to manually fix older files to enable compatibility with Office 2010, according to the report. In some cases, the older files may have to be recreated anew. Office 2010 and Office 2007 use the Office Open XML format for saved files, which have a four-character extension, such as ".DOCX" for Word files rather than the earlier ".DOC" extension. The report indicates that "links to files using earlier-generation extensions will break" in Office 2010.

To find files in the older document format, Microsoft offers a free command-line tool called the "Office Migration Planning Manager." However, this tool doesn't actually fix the older files. The report recommends using proprietary tools from Microsoft partners, such as those from ConverterTechnology, to automatically fix file compatibility problems.  

An upgrade to Office 2010 may affect power users who previously used add-ins in Office. They may have created in-house applications in Office using macros or Visual Basic for Applications. The VBA code will break using the 64-bit version of Office 2010, the report warns. IT pros can use another free tool from Microsoft to find such problems beforehand. The "Office Code Compatibility Inspector" tool from Microsoft will detect compatibility issues with such add-ins, but the tool can only evaluate one file at a time.

Another free Microsoft tool, "Office Environment Assessment Tool," will identify the add-ins and applications being used with Office apps. However, like Microsoft's other free tools, there's no automatic fix for incompatibility issues. The tools also can't scan password-protected files, according to the report.

Despite the potential pitfalls, organizations do appear to have upgrade plans in mind. An earlier first-quarter 2010 survey by Forrester found that 63 percent of 111 productivity professionals planned to upgrade to Office 2010. Half of the respondents without such plans said they were in the process of upgrading to Office 2007.

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