Office 2007: The whys and ways of upgrading

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Office 2007: The whys and ways of upgrading
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We evaluate the various versions of Office 2007 and what they offer, and find a companion to help with search

Microsoft has released details of the different editions and pricing for Office 2007. There’ll be seven different editions, up from six for Office 2003, but the pricing remains broadly the same as for Office 2003. The main changes to the editions are at the top and bottom of the range, with those in the middle staying pretty much the same:

Office Basic 2007, consisting of Word, Excel and Outlook will be available to purchase only with a new PC. It may look a good price, but remember that with all OEM (original equipment manufacturer) editions purchased with a new PC, the licence dies when that PC is replaced. If you may need any of the other Office applications later, you’d be better off buying a bigger OEM edition from the start, or buying a full package product. These cost more but are transferable to other PCs.

The cheapest edition of Office 2007 you’ll be able to buy off-the-shelf is called Home & Student. This is an evolution of what was once Office 2003 Student & Teacher Edition. Gone is the stipulation that you or someone in your family had to be studying for a nationally recognised educational qualification. Now anyone can buy the Home & Student Edition, providing it isn’t used ‘commercially’. Like the Student & Teacher Edition before it, the Home & Student Edition is expected to give you the licence to install up to three copies of the suite for use by your family. This edition gives you Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Outlook isn’t in the package but Microsoft does promise ‘new time management tools’ without going into any specifics. It isn’t really too surprising that Outlook is missing from this edition: Windows Vista will include new email and calendar applications that should satisfy most home users. The inclusion of OneNote should be great for students as it can really help with research, organising thoughts and taking notes in lectures.

Office 2007 Standard Edition is available as a full package product (FPP), and an upgrade from a previous version or through Open or Select licensing. As with the previous 2003 version, it comprises Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. The Small Business Edition adds Publisher and Business Contact Manager to the Standard Edition. Publisher is a useful application for designing advertising brochures, mailshots and the like, but Business Contact Manager, at least in its 2003 version, isn’t useful. It’s a distinctly underpowered and restrictive Customer Relationship Manager add-on to Outlook, and I really can’t see that it adds any value for the vast majority of users of Small Business Edition. Still, I’ll look at it again when we get Beta 2 of Office 2007 and see if it’s been improved at all.

Office Professional 2007 is the top version of the suite that you
can buy off-the-shelf: it contains Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Business Contact Manager and Access. I think I’ve railed
enough about Access recently and won’t bore you again here about its deficiencies. Suffice to say that, if I were choosing whether to buy Small Business Edition or Professional Edition, I’d save the money and go with Small Business.

The remaining editions of Office 2007 are only available through volume licensing programmes. Top of the range in Office 2003 was the confusingly named Professional Enterprise Edition. If you currently license this with Software Assurance, you’ll be eligible to use the new Office 2007 Professional Plus Edition, which adds InfoPath and Office Communicator to the Professional Edition. InfoPath 2007 is tied very tightly to Windows SharePoint Services and the new Office SharePoint Server, and it can provide a much better solution than Access.

SharePoint stores data securely in SQL Server and InfoPath provides good-looking, easy-to-use forms for retrieving it – if you need forms
more complicated than SharePoint provides out of the box, InfoPath is
the easiest way to go. If you need more complicated data storage
than SharePoint can provide, InfoPath will store data direct to SQL Server or use BizTalk to interact with multiple databases and business
processes. No-one should even think about trying to get an Access
front-end to scale up in that way.

Office Communicator is the front-end to Office Live Communications Server, Microsoft’s ‘Corporate Grade’ instant messaging, phone and video-conferencing service. One won’t work without the other, but if you’re thinking of implementing Live Communications Server it’s nice to
know that the Client Access Licences (CALs) are included in Office and aren’t an extra expense. Be aware that connection to other public IM networks such as MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger is an extra cost, of about $1-2 per user, per month.

Microsoft says that the Professional Plus Edition has ‘Integrated solution capabilities such as ECM (Enterprise Content Management), electronic forms and information rights and policy capabilities’. This is very woolly – about the only thing I can deduce with any certainty from that sentence is that the Professional Plus Edition has the ability to use Information Rights Management (IRM). This allows the author of a document or email to encrypt the data in such a way that they can dictate who can read it and what that person can do with it. They can, for instance, deny the recipient the right to print, copy or forward the information. This feature can help organisations prevent sensitive data from leaking. It certainly can’t prevent a knowledgeable and determined person from copying data, but it can help to deter some people. The other bits of marketing waffle I’m less sure about. ECM is surely something to do with the new Office SharePoint Server and ‘electronic forms’ is either to do with InfoPath or Office SharePoint Server, or both. I’m not at all sure what ‘policy capabilities’ are, and I doubt many other people know either...
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