It is possible to purchase programs such as a word processor and a spreadsheet program separately, and there are suites other than Microsoft Office out there, but as a practical matter, Microsoft Office is still the de facto standard in business today. An estimated 95% of businesses currently use Microsoft Office. Assuming you own, or plan to own Microsoft Office does not mean that you are home free, however.
There are at least two major issues confronting MS Office users today. The first is that many advisors are still using MS Office 2003 or earlier. Given the fact that MS Office 2003 is two versions old (the current version is MS Office 2010) advisors not using the 2007 or 2010 version need to upgrade.
There are a number of reasons to upgrade. First, MS Office 2007 & 2010 use a different file format than previous versions. They also sport a totally different interface. Most users, once they’ve had a change to become familiar with the new interface prefer it to the previous one, but it does take a while to acclimate. So, if you have not yet upgraded, expect to encounter a learning curve when you do.
If you are new to the Office 2007/2010 ribbon interface, learning to operate in the new environment recently became easier with the release of Ribbon Hero (http://www.ribbonhero.com). This free game, available free of charge from Microsoft Office Labs, allows you to play games, score points, and compete against colleagues while improving your MS Office skills. In fact, even if you’ve already been using MS Office 2007 or 2010 for some time, you may pick up some additional skills by giving Ribbon Hero a try.
MS Office 2007 & 2010 are backward compatible with earlier versions of Office. This means the users of current office versions can open files created in older versions. They can also save files to the older file format, although doing so sacrifices some of the benefits (such as smaller file size) and formatting extras that the newer version allows for. Users of Office XP and Office 2003 can download a compatibility pack that lets them view documents created in MS Office 2007 & 2010, but again, or advice is to upgrade now.
The other issue a new user or upgrader must face is which version of office to buy. The Office product line includes many useful programs, although some, such as OneNote and InfoPath, are relatively unknown. There’s a wide array of retail editions and multi-user licenses to choose from. At one end of the spectrum is MS Office Starter 2010. This software, which comes pre-loaded on some new PC’s, includes version of MS Word 2010 Starter and MS Excel 2010 Starter. This software is free, ad supported software. It is not a trial version that expires, but it does not offer the full functionality of MS Word or MS Excel.
The real entry level product for 2010 is MS Office Home & Student 2010, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, but which is not licensed for business use. PFP’s are more likely to be interested in MS Office Home & Business 2010, which adds MS Outlook 2010 to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, or MS Office Professional 2010, which adds MS Access and Publisher to those applications previously mentioned.
Those needing five or more licenses have access to two different volume licensing editions, Office Standard 2010 and Office Standard Professional Plus. The former includes MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Publisher. The latter includes all the Standard components but adds MS Access, InfoPath, and SharePoint Workspace, as well as Communicator 2007 R2. In addition, Plus offers Office Web Apps (online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), information rights management and policy capabilities, unified instant messaging, business class social networking, integrated electronic forms, and integrated enterprise content management.
As was the case with the 2007 version of MS Office, the 2010 version offers several specialized server products. These include SharePoint Server (for collaborative environments), Exchange Server (email and messaging), Groove Server (dynamic collaboration), Project Server, and Office Communications Server (unified voice, IM, audio, video and web conferencing).
We will cover productivity software in some detail at a later date. For now, suffice it to say that it is important to carefully analyze your purchase options to get the most out of your MS Office purchase. It is also worth knowing that most purchasers only use well under 20% of an Office application’s capabilities. Proper training can yield significant dividends.