"Fair, Good, Better, Best" or "Crap, Unbearable, Barely Tolerable, Good"?

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I’m still on holidays, and the cricket between Australia and India was great (despite the poor umpiring), thus this post will be brief by my standards!

A question I often get asked by clients is along the lines of “Do I have to upgrade from Office [insert old version here] to use the latest version of SharePoint?”

Microsoft technology evangelists (very nice people too I might add) often mention the “Fair, Good, Better, Best” mantra when explaining the intricacy of integration with Office client tools and the Office Server (SharePoint). You can read it for yourself via the latest version of the white-paper can be found here.

The content in this white-paper is good, but I’m amused at the choice of terms for the client and server combinations. IT Managers, if you want me to paraphrase the entire content of the article I can summarise it like this.

  • Fair = Crap
  • Good = Unbearable
  • Better = Barely Tolerable
  • Best = Good

For your reference,

  • Crap = Office 2000
  • Unbearable = Office XP
  • Barely Tolerable = Office 2003
  • Good = Office 2007

Don’t take crap!

So, do yourself a favour. If your MSOffice deployment (or a large part of it) currently falls into the “Crap” or “Unbearable” categories, STOP NOW! Don’t waste anymore time on feasibility studies, strategic/planning meetings, etc. Just write a business justification and get a budget to upgrade. It’s such a brain-dead proposition that I am not even going to spend any time writing about it.

Failure to do this renders the vast majority of the SharePoint benefits null and void.

Is “barely tolerable” actually tolerable?

Microsoft Office 2003 was designed to work with the previous version of SharePoint. For that version, it provides a good level of integration with Office 2003. The problem is, the Office 2003 suite is not designed for SharePoint 2007. The majority of the things that make SharePoint a great product are features in the 2007 version. Office 2003 cannot take as much advantage of it.

So for me, Office 2003 still doesn’t cut it. The level of integration to really leverage SharePoint 2007 isn’t sufficient. Let’s have a quick look why.

Collaborative Document Management

In terms of collaborative document management (workflows, metadata, document information panel inside MSOffice applications), Office 2003 has limitations.

Workflows cannot be triggered from within Office 03, and must be done via a browser. As a result, the user working with workflows must move back and forth between e-mail, Office 2003 clients, and the SharePoint site to execute the required tasks. As Microsoft themselves acknowledge, this creates the issue of “More difficult to modify work habits leading to lower participation in workflow process, efficiency benefits not fully realized”.

More importantly in my opinion, entering metadata is more of a problem in Office 2003. It has to be entered via the old document properties dialog box, or via a browser after the file has been saved. If any of the metadata properties are required fields, then the document once saved will be in a checked out state, waiting for the metadata to be filled in. While this is the case, no other user will be able to see this document if it has been saved for the first time.

In fact depending on the versioning settings of a SharePoint 2007 document library or content type, Office 2003 can be a downright frustrating user experience.

So the major issue here in terms of metadata according to Microsoft is “reduced compliance with metadata requirements limits ability to manage content”. I would add to this the non realisation of efficiency benefits as they described for workflow issue above.

It is the “efficiency benefits not fully realized” part of these issues that you need to focus on. The whole point of the exercise is efficiency. I demonstrated in my ‘talk to your CFO’ series of posts that in the collaborative document management scenario, gaining only 4 minutes of improved efficiency per day for staff as opposed to 5 minutes can make the entire project uneconomic.

So, therefore improved efficiency = saved $. The more the better!

Outlook integration

A major productivity gain is the tight integration with SharePoint and Outlook. Unfortunately with Outlook 2003, the integration provided for SharePoint calendars is limited to read-only access. Changes therefore to SharePoint calendars need to be made on the SharePoint site. In addition, there is no calendar overlay between personal calendars in Outlook and the read-only SharePoint ones. Therefore, side-by-side viewing mode is not as user-friendly as it could be.

The other big problem with Outlook 2003 is that there is no ability to copy contents of SharePoint Server lists and libraries for offline access in Outlook folders.

Microsoft states two issues with this: 

  • SharePoint team calendars are not seamlessly integrated into existing work habits. 
  • Access to SharePoint Server managed data limited to times when a network connection is available.

For those readers who have not used Outlook 2007 with SharePoint, in terms of calendaring, you have an “overlay” view that makes it much easier to spot conflicts between the two calendars. Also, Outlook 2007 provides read/write access to SharePoint calendar items. Thus appointments can be dragged and dropped from one calendar to another. Because it is so much easier to work with SharePoint calendars from within the familiar Outlook environment, user adoption of the capability is enhanced.

(user adoption enhancement = efficiency = dollars saved)

Conclusion

There are other benefits with Office 2007 too, in relation to published Excel spreadsheets via Excel services, improved MSAccess integration that improves the ability to manage shared Access databases. In addition, electronic forms via infopath and infopath forms services is a great boon for some companies.

But since this tends not to impact the full user base, I have not included detail here. Perhaps my next CFO series of posts will examine Office 2007 and Office 2003 and see what the return on investment is?

Thanks and hope you all enjoyed your holidays!

Paul

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2 Responses to "Fair, Good, Better, Best" or "Crap, Unbearable, Barely Tolerable, Good"?

  1. For one I am for the informative stuff. In some cases, the best content originate from the posts one would not expect. Recently, I didn’t give a lot of thought to posting comments on blog posts and have left responses even less. Taking note of your great information, is going to help me to take action again.

  2. Jesus Christ says:

    Honestly, Office 2007 is *pure crap*. Maybe the integration with SharePoint and Outlook might be better, but as far as usability, MS Word, Excel, Access 2007 suck big time compared to their 2003 counterparts.

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