Microsoft Office presents challenges along with new product offerings

Russ Levanway, CEO, Tektegrity

“A new version of Microsoft Office? Sounds good!” Hold on there, go-getter. If your organization relies on Outlook for email, you’ll need to know this isn’t your standard upgrade.

The good news is that Office 2013 is a lot like Office 2010, so getting everyone up to speed won’t take a lot of extra training. It also offers features that increase productivity and usability, such as documents that let you zoom, embed videos and drop in photos. PowerPoint has new features and a new interface. Excel gained some new data analysis options. And the changes to Outlook should secure its place in the competition for business users.

In order to run that new version of Outlook, however, your server must be compatible. That’s where many small businesses will hit a snag. Countless organizations have been humming along happily with Small Business Server 2003 (SBS2003) combined with Exchange 2003 as their mail server. Because these applications are at the end of their lifecycles, they are not compatible with Outlook 2013. (SBS 2011 is the last product in the Small Business Server line. It will be available only until June 30th, 2013 or December 31st from OEM suppliers.)

With all of that in mind, an upgrade to Office 2013 is forcing many small businesses to upgrade their server software, something we don’t recommend on hardware with 4 or more years of service under its belt. This, in turn, leads to a recommendation for replacement of both hardware and software. Yes, it’s true; those new Office features can come at the cost of a whole new server system!

At this point, many small businesses would simply decide to stick with their older version of Office, since this seems like such a big hassle.  Unfortunately, Microsoft does not make that easy! With new computers, only Office 2013 is available now. In order to buy Office 2010, it is necessary to pay a premium price for an open licensed version of Office 2013 that can be downgraded. These open licenses can cost a lot more than the version of Office 2013 bundled with a typical new desktop or laptop computer.

Once a small business goes through this discovery process, it becomes clear there are not many choices other than moving forward with an upgrade. For any growing business, the purchase of new computers can’t be postponed forever. Because e-mail is one of the most important technology tools of many small businesses, their servers and e-mail systems have to be compatible with the new computers.

Such significant and complex changes have necessitated creative solutions that allow our clients to bridge these challenges without major sticker shock. Initially, we worked on a solution that involved using Windows Server 2012 and Exchange Server 2012. However, it became clear that this solution was too expensive in many scenarios. Through much research and analysis, we have developed a specific solution to recommend to many small businesses.   For those ready to move beyond Small Business Server, we typically recommend Windows Server 2012 combined with a hosted Exchange setup that allows computers to use both Office 2010 and 2013.  We think this solution is beneficial and the least costly option to boot.  Moving from SBS 2003 to Windows Server 2012 isn’t an easy upgrade path, but the pain does come with gains in performance and flexibility.

At TekTegrity, we expect these changes and new offerings to prompt many questions from users. While this article serves as an introduction, there are many other factors that should also be considered. We are happy to help our clients evaluate their requirements and select, install and configure the best hardware and software solutions for their unique business needs.

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, an IT Managed Services Provider serving the Central Coast and Central Valley. The organization’s Total Systems Management™ (TSM) service model provides preventative IT support at fixed monthly fee levels. For more information, visit www.tektegrity.com.

NEWS FLASH!

Hopefully you had a chance to read last month’s article about why we continue to recommend Microsoft Windows 7 instead of Windows 8.  We have heard great news from Redmond in the last several weeks.  Microsoft has acknowledged the changes in Windows 8, especially taking away the start menu, have resulted in a steep learning curve.  The soon to be released Windows Blue (Windows 8.1) will bring back the start menu.  The user friendliness elements of Windows 7 are coming back!  Windows 8.1 won’t be released till later this year, but the updates are encouraging news.  Once 8.1 comes out, we will evaluate it carefully to make sure it is a good fit for our clients’ business environments before recommending it.