Friday 5 September 2008

Office 2007 - A new way of thinking

I was asked by a colleague a little while ago to start thinking about Office 2007 in a new way.

He asked me, " What kind of issues would we encounter with the introduction of Office 2007 in an enterprise environment which might break applications?". My answer, "No clue". Followed by, "I am really busy right now". Followed by, "Yes, right... Uhmmm, got to go now...bye!".

I mean, Microsoft's Office 2007 is a really big, complex application. I use Word, Excel etc. all of the time and sometimes I feel that the desktop platform is a "merged" blend of WindowsOfficeAndIE. The difficulty in pulling these mammoth Microsoft monopolies apart got Microsoft in legal "poo" with the US government a while back. If you walk through the Office installation you begin to wonder where a desktop build ends and the application installation process starts. Add Internet Explorer (IE) to the mix, and for most organisation you have most of what people "USE" on a daily basis and a good chunk of what developers rely and most importantly "BUILD " upon for most of their applications.

So, not really taking his suggestion that I consider his request in the few moments before I fall asleep each night, or the few seconds between waking and getting up to get the kids breakfast, I started asking the question,

"What installation, integration and maintenance issues would Office 2007 cause in a big, heterogeneous corporate/enterprise environment?"

The answer is; surprisingly quite a lot. Here are some initial thoughts;

  • Excel Add-ins - these guys are chunks of code that completely depend on the Excel universe to survive and would have loads of links, dependencies and integration points which would be ripe for breaking under a new version of Office (Excel).
  • Applications that use Excel to display spreadsheet data - there are a large number of applications in the financial and insurance sector which rely on the Excel calculation engine to generate and display their results.
  • Office 2007 has deprecated (removed support) for a number of Application Programming Interfaces (API's) that previous developer's may have used. This means that a function within a 3rd party application may no longer start or simply return an empty string.
  • Broken support for integrated applications. Applications that integrate directly into Word or Excel may no longer work due to the changes in the Office UI or even the architecture of Office applications. I understand that version 6 and 7 of Adobe PDFWriter no longer work under Office 2007 and that there issues with getting the Oracle connector to work in Outlook.
  • New Security Restrictions. Applications could do pretty much what they wanted to in previous version of Office - this has changed with Office 2007 and may break some 3rd party applications. These changes could be pretty difficult to debug if you take the huge security changes that have been introduced with Vista as well - which one broke the app? Vista or Office? Both?
  • Office Updates: What changes, restrictions have been introduced over the past year through Microsoft update which may affect my other, 3rd party applications? This is a huge challenge for enterprise desktop management. As application developers design, develop and deploy applications for their target desktop and office - monthly changes and updates from Microsoft (while I am sure are very helpful) may move the goalposts in the sense of changing security restrictions or functions that were previously relied upon.

Loads of stuff - but I wonder how many applications would really be affected? So, over the next month or so, we are going to take a look at answering these questions and getting some rough and ready quantitative data - real applications, real numbers, real issues...

Should be a version of fun!

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