Comparing Office Suites – Steering Wheel or HandleBars?

Steering Wheels for a Reason

For arguments sake, let's say you are deciding on a new car. You likely expect the car to have basic features like four wheels, an engine, seats and a steering wheel etc. Did it ever occur to you to make sure the seats are adjustable? Or if the steering wheel can tilt and be placed on either side? (Since 1/3rd of the world drives on the wrong side of the road!) Of course the car may come in different versions, colors, upgrade packages, that's exactly what you want to fit your needs.

Now compare that to a car which has three wheels, an ever changing dashboard with features, some not under warranty, and a single seat that doesn't adjust. To top it off, instead of a steering wheel, it has a handlebar and comes in one color. Sounds crazy I know, but ask if this would suit your needs? Yes, it's transportation. Yes, it's cheap. But is it worth it?  

There is a reason why car's don't have handlebars and ulitmately why solutions that do less or are awkward to use aren't as widely adopted by over 600 million users like Microsoft Office. (Unfortunately I can not explain why a boat has a steering wheel on the right side but that's a great discussion with 1million results.)

So what does all of this have to do with productivity software?

Comparing Office Suites

Such a metaphorical discussion is very germane to the topic of comparing productivity suites. In fact, recently much has been written about "Inbox Wars" and whether it's "unfair" for a customer to request an application that can provide users the option to work the way they want, say sort their emails by 'date', 'from', 'subject', or 'conversation'. I.e. Do the seats even adjust to fit the driver? 

I'd argue its 'unfair' to force users to live with a solution that only provides one view ('conversation') and lacks many of the basic features found in nearly every other email solution. i.e. a car with a handlebar and non-adjustable seats in one color.

When comparing Microsoft Office to either (or derivatives) or Google Docs, it's usually an apples to oranges comparison that requires criteria which is expansive. Do you want a solution that fits your needs in a variety of ways and is the best in the market OR do you want something different that is new and limited? Both have a role for sure, but are you overlooking even basic elements which highlighted in my car example sound odd? 

Three recent reports have been released that attempt to achieve such a comparison for IT Pro's when evaluating Microsoft Office vs Alternatives. Software is just like everything else, 'you get what you pay for'.

The Basex Take – Collaborative Business Environment

Basex is an Analyst firm that specializes in the 'knowledge economy'. If you've heard about information overload in the workplace, this is likely the result of Basex's research to understand how tools help or inhibit user productivity in today's environment. The firm believes in the 'Collaborative Business Environment' (CBE) when evaluating tools and recently released a comparative study on Microsoft Office 2010, and Google Apps. According to Basex, there are three elements to a CBE that must be understood when evaluating a solution.

  1. The One Environment Rule
  2. Friction Free Knowledge Sharing
  3. Embedded Community

In fact, a CBE has many technologies and demands, many of which only Microsoft can deliver out of the box. (see image – courtesy of Basex). In their report, they take a quantitative approach to trying to score each solution and how they rank when compared to each other. The end result, Microsoft Office 2010 remains the best suite in the market. In fact, when comparing to Docs or, people often forget the other solutions you get such as OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath etc which are included in the Office versions.

The final summary is "A move to Office 2010 is one we endorse without hesitation".


When you look at the list above, it's becomes so apparent why only Microsoft can easily put a 'check' next to each bullet, while other offerings have to careful pick or rely on third parties. As I've mentioned before, when comparing our stack to Google Apps, OpenOffice.Org, Cisco, Lotus etc, we simply are a leader in more markets across the board than anyone else. You can see all those evaluations on this IT Analyst page.

Gartner's Cost Model – Yes Virginia, There are Hidden Costs

Gartner also recently released a new report that covers the cost model for upgrading to Office 2010. We have purchased reprints so that you can download a copy for free. Unfortunately, the Gartner model does not consider the benefits of features or downside of missing features when comparing Office 2010 to another version or competitive alternative but it's shares the Basex CBE rule #1 – One Environment.

Net is that deploying different tools for different users may seem attractive but in the long run creates cost for IT and for end users. In the end, deploying bits is deploying bits, so optimizing one solution drive efficiency.  We know the benefits to IT of going to the Web should include an offering for deskless/casual users and for core Information Workers.  I've written before about how Codelco and Hyatt Resorts are using this approach as it's sitll one environment for IT and one common experience for users.   

The other interesting element is document conversion costs. We've written several times about the impact of Google Docs proprietary web format and how their conversion to the web impacts both ODF and OpenXML standards documents. I say 'proprietary' as it's still not clear what format Google uses to store your documents. But there is a great rule of thumb to simply take average number of documents per user, how many are simple v complex, how many have macros that Google can't even interpret etc. This is a clear weakness of their view on PC/Phone/Browser and using each runtime to achieve knowledge sharing.

The Forrester Survey - Office 2010/SharePoint is Top of Mind

Finally, Forrester Research conducted a survey (free here)  earlier this year with IT Pro's and ITDM's about their interest and intent to deploy Office 2010.  The results speak for themselves with a majority of respondents indicating a move to Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.  The Client/Server connections we build were seen as primary drivers for use of the products and these are really a key differentiator compared to which has no email client or server pairing (natively) and Google which has no client connection except connectors that seems to create havoc for IT than intended. 

Of course there were questions included about alternatives in use or for future use.  Of those who do not intend to upgrade this release, only 3 respondents said they would leave Office.  In fact, most IT Pros see alternatives as compliments which is why Gartner's hidden costs and Basex's One Environment Rule are so key to understand.

Reducing IT Cost  – More Than One Way to Deploy Office 2010

Most customers I speak with mention they want browser only versions because Office is hard to deploy AND browsers will replace PC based apps. On the first part, with Office 2010 we've worked tremendously hard to help reduce cost of deploying Office. In fact we released information on how Microsoft IT rolled out 2010 to 100,000 computers. With all the new tools we help you plan, scan and understand all the elements related to a migration.

For example, the Office 2010 Migration Planning Manager offers a File Scanner which allows you to see how many and what types of documents are in your landscape. I spoke to one customer who used this tool to save money by implementing a document archiving strategy once they saw how many 5 year old documents they were paying to store. In addition, given the potential file size savings that XML based formats provide, they were able to move to OpenXML and save and the documents they bring forward. Given the great extensibility of Office, we've also improved the tools (Office Code Compatibility Inspector) which will show which Add-In's are deployed, which are compatible with 2010 so IT can plan holistically for the new version.

On the second part, the browser is becoming a better environment for productivity authoring. It's why we built the web apps, why we invest cross browser, why only Office has a PC/Phone/Browser story in the market.  Consider that over 10 years ago we delivered the first Ajax enabled email client with Outlook Web Access to the world. But there are many trade-offs for every run time environment (bare metal install to virtualization to terminal services to browser to phone (client or browser)) so it's a balance between understanding what deployment tools IT can leverage and how users can get the best set of tools to fit their needs for a win-win. 



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