Office 2003 is a bigger threat to Microsoft than Google Docs

The good news for Microsoft is businesses have rejected free Office alternatives. The bad news is they are holding on to the old versions of Office as well.

Market research firm Forrester Research has just published a report that shows Microsoft has little to fear from the free office application suites gunning for Office's dominion, though the company will also have a devil of a time uprooting Office 2003.

Forrester surveyed 155 clients about their currently deployed productivity suites in their offices. The survey found Office 2010 is used by nearly 85% of the surveyed companies, with hefty overlap of other versions. What that means is Office 2010 and 2013 are slowly replacing older versions, just not very quickly.

Only 22% of surveyed firms are using Office 2013, but another 36% have plans to deploy it. Forrester said Office 2013's uptake will be slower than Office 2010 because fewer firms plan to do a combined rollout of Office 2013 with Windows 8 as they did when they did combined rollouts of Office 2010 with Windows 7.

The bad news is that 28% were using Office 2003 or earlier (presumably XP). That's not good news. Office XP is no longer supported and Microsoft plans to end support for Office 2003 on April 2014. Once those applications are out of active support, any exploits uncovered by cybercrooks will not be fixed.

If there is one thing I've learned in my time covering malware it’s that out-of-date software is ripe for exploitation. The bad guys love these systems because they know they won't be fixed. Windows XP SP2 is full of exploits, something I pointed out two years ago, because malware writers know targeting SP2 means the problem will never be addressed.

There's bad news for supporters of free office suites like OpenOffice and LibreOffice. OpenOffice had just a 3% share, down from 13% in 2011, while LibreOffice was a mere 2%. Bringing up the rear was Corel Office, which still exists, but holds 1% market share. Google Docs is doing an OK job with 9% share, but Office 365, Microsoft's on-demand version for consumers and small offices, has 14% share.

One area not catching fire is tablets. Apps on iOS and Android devices were rated important by just 16% of respondents, and support for non-Windows PCs was important to only 11%. For now, Forrester says, most technology decision-makers seem satisfied with leaving employees to self-provision office productivity apps on their smartphones and tablets if they really want them.

Even though the competition is getting trounced, at least there is competition. I'm content with Office, but for people who don't like it, these options should be there. With their low usage rates, I wonder how long they will last.

As for the old versions, I suspect these are smaller firms that can't afford to migrate, although it could also be what kept me on 2003 for so long: a dislike of the ribbon interface added with Office 2007. I know which I prefer, and that might be the same for other people as well.

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