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Microsoft Office 2007 Beta

Office 2007 Will Impact Your Practice, Whether You Buy It or Not

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 08/10/2006

The end of December is traditionally a slow time in the investment advisory business, but things generally pick up rapidly once the New Year arrives. This year is likely to be even more hectic than usual. Right around the turn of the year, Microsoft is scheduled to release Microsoft Office 2007. You are probably thinking that you don't have to worry about this because you can put off purchasing and installing MS Office 2007 until a later date, and you may be partially right, but the release of MS Office 2007 will have some impact, either direct or indirect, on just about every financial advisor, whether you install MS Office 2007 immediately or not. The purpose of this article is to provide you with a bit of advanced warning, so you don't get caught flat footed.

The soon to be released MS Office 2007 suite of products is, without a doubt, one of the most significant and radical upgrades to MS Office ever. Each time Microsoft releases a new version of MS Office, they hype it and the press hypes it, but believe me, this upgrade is radically different. How so? There are three major areas of change: the file format, the interface and the components/integration. Let's look at each in turn.

File Formats
For as long as I can remember, Microsoft Office has used consistent, binary based default file formats. MS Word files are .doc files, MS Excel files were .xls files and MS PowerPoint files are .ppt files. All of that is about to change. With the release of MS Office 2007, files will be based upon an XML file format. The default format for MS Word 2007 will be .docx; for MS Excel 2007, .xlsx; and for PowerPoint 2007, .pptx.

The move to new file formats raises all sorts of compatibility issues. The good news is that the new version of MS Office will be compatible with previous versions, so, if you open a file created in a previous version of MS Office, the new version should have no problem opening it, reading it and editing it. If you do edit the file, however, you will have a decision to make. You can save the file in the same file format that it was created in, but if you do, you give up the advantages of using the new format. These include new features, smaller file size (up to 75% smaller in some cases), plus improved integration with other documents and with back office systems.

The XML file format should also improve compatibility with third party providers since XML is widely used throughout the world. In addition, the new format will make it easier to recover and repair damaged files. Finally, the new file format should give IT departments more granular control over documents, so that those containing certain types of potentially malicious code can be blocked. If you decide to save the file in the new format, you will gain the advantages outlined above, but you may create compatibility issues for some users who have not upgraded to the latest version.

For users of earlier MS Office versions, the compatibility situation is somewhat of a question mark. Currently, Microsoft provides a "Microsoft Office Awareness Update" and a "File format Awareness Update" which are supposed to allow MS Office 2003 users and MS Office XP users who have installed all service packs to create new files, open files, and save files in the most popular Office 2007 file formats (MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats). I have not tested these utilities yet, but downloading and installing these files can be cumbersome and time consuming. We'll have to see what happens when the final version is released.

Support for and compatibility with older versions of MS Office is likely to be more problematic. Those using pre-XP versions are probably overdue for an upgrade, and this change of file formats alone may force them do so, whether they want to or not.

Of course, compatibility issues do not begin and end with other versions of MS Office. Many advisors use other programs that interact with MS Office in some way. For example, a number of CRM programs that are widely used by advisors interface with MS Outlook. Many financial planning and portfolio management software packages interface in some way with MS Excel. Advisors purchase presentation content, typically in the form of PowerPoint presentations. What about all the add-ins and links to and from MS Office applications? If you upgrade to the new version of MS Office, will it be compatible with all of your other existing software programs? If you don't upgrade, and your vendor comes out with a new version containing desirable features, will it fully support your version of MS Office? Or, will you need to upgrade to enjoy the full functionality of the new version?

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