Migration move is a risky business

Microsoft’s decision to migrate Office files to the Extensible Markup Language (XML) format poses a big risk for both the company and its customers, analysts said. Early this month, Microsoft said it would use the XML format as the new default for saving files in the Office 12 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office 12 is the next version of the productivity suite, which is due in the second half of next year.

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By  Caroline Denslow Published  June 12, 2005

Microsoft’s decision to migrate Office files to the Extensible Markup Language (XML) format poses a big risk for both the company and its customers, analysts said. Early this month, Microsoft said it would use the XML format as the new default for saving files in the Office 12 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office 12 is the next version of the productivity suite, which is due in the second half of next year. The new format will make files smaller, be better protected from corruption, and be easier to share with other applications, Microsoft said. However, changing the file formats is a big risk to Microsoft, especially in the short term, because it might dissuade users from continually using Office, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that monitors the software developer. Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Rita Knox are also sceptical about this move. XML benefits may be clear to some, but Office 12’s other benefits are not, and customers will face the toil of migration, they said in a report. “Knowing about the new file formats enables organisations to start thinking about how to use XML data in business applications and about how they might deploy Office 12 and manage the file format change. The only thing missing is a clear description of what’s in Office 12. Without this description, the many companies that don’t integrate Office with their business applications or processes cannot yet understand whether there will be sufficient benefits to outweigh their Office 12 migration costs,” the Gartner report said. While it will be possible for OpenOffice.org and others to more faithfully replicate Microsoft’s file format in their applications, Microsoft’s rendering engine will not be an open specification. Thus, users of third-party products might not be able to display Microsoft’s files with 100% visual fidelity or to execute macros without problems, it added. According to Chris Capossela, a corporate vice president in Microsoft’s information worker group, they are shipping converters that will allow users of previous versions of Office to read Office12 files and turn large batches of documents into the new format. In addition, Office 12 will be able to work with current .doc, .xls and .ppt proprietary file formats. Documents will also be automatically saved in the same file format they started when the editing began. While analysts see no major reasons to move to Office 12, Gartner advises those who are looking at migrating to deploy the converters within three months of Office 12 availability “to ensure minimal disruption if someone sends a user a file in the new format.” Wait for more details to decide if new features in Outlook or other parts of the suite will make it a compelling upgrade, Silver said.

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