For Microsoft, Forrester's recent report on productivity suites and alternatives to Office 2013 just couldn’t get better. It shows that while there are alternatives to Microsoft Office, most enterprises aren’t even looking at them. It also shows that if Office 2013 still hasn’t gained the traction Microsoft would like it to, it is only because most users are still on the 2010 version. 

The findings, contained in Forrester’s Market Update: Office 2013 And Productivity Suite Alternatives report, are the result of a survey of 155 IT decision makers worldwide. The survey aimed to find out what tools workers are using, whether they plan to upgrade to Office 2013 or stay with the applications they are using, or whether they might move to an alternative product entirely. It also attempted to pin down why enterprises were using what they are using.

Office Issues

The survey was also timed to find out whether Microsoft’s new Office product, Office 2013 is gaining any traction across the enterprise, and whether enterprises were considering upgrading from existing products to new products.

The last such survey was carried out two years ago, during which time more and more people have turned to Goggle Apps, and are accessing their productivity suites on mobile. Both Office 365 and IBM Docs burst onto the market during this period while the emergence of cloud-based tools as more offered enterprises completely new opportunities. 

In a nutshell, the question Forrester was asking in the survey was how Microsoft’s Office suite is faring in the light of such changes. The answer, in a nutshell, is that it is doing very well, and still the dominant productivity suite in the enterprises. But the answer is a little subtler than that. There are four different areas that Forrester looked at in detail:

Productivity Cloud Apps

According to the research, many IT departments are paying for functionality that users will never need. However, with the cloud they see a means of changing this. The problem, as Forrester explains it, is one of habit. Users are stuck on standalone email apps like Outlook and IBM Notes.

However, if  IT departments can get users into moving to a cloud-based email app, they might be able to change office culture and move everything across to the cloud, paying only for what they need. The process of doing this has already begun. The survey shows that:

  • Already, 20 percent of enterprises are using email in the cloud, with a further 25 percent expected to move over the next year. Only 1 percent use IBM SmartCloud for Social Business, while more are using Office 365 (14 percent) than Google Apps (9 percent).
  • Half of those using cloud email have a hybrid model, which enables users to continue accessing email from enterprise servers. For some, this is only a temporary situation and precedes a general move to the cloud once all parts of the enterprise are ready.
  • Microsoft collaboration tools are still by far the most popular choice across enterprises with 78 percent using Exchange Server and 82 percent using SharePoint. In fact, according to the report, Exchange adoptions outnumber IBM Notes/Domino by 3:1.

Office 2010 v 2013

While deployment of Office 2013 is continuing, it does not have the traction that Office 2010 had when it was released. According to a Forrester survey taken 6 months after the release of Office 2010, 52 percent of respondents were already using Office 2010. A similar survey taken around the Office 2013 release shows that the equivalent figure is only 22 percent.

Forrester explains this by pointing out that many enterprises upgraded Office, when they moved to Windows 7, but are not doing the same thing for the release of Windows 8. That said, the survey shows that:

  • Most companies plan to move to Office 2013, with 16 percent planning it for the next 12 months and a further 20 percent late than that. For those that have no plans at all, the principal reason cited was that there is no compelling business reason to do so.
  • That said, more firms support Google Docs than Office Web Apps. This means that more firms have employees using Google Drive/Docs (13 percent) than Office Web Apps (9 percent). IBM Docs only came into play at the beginning of this year so only 1 percent are using that. OX App Suite from the former OpenOffice developers didn’t make it into the survey at all
  • Open source alternatives haven’t really managed to gain any traction. In the survey 2 years ago, 13 percent of respondents said they supported at least one of the OpenOffice variants. In this survey only 5 percent do so. If LibreOffice is still a lightweight alternative for the desktop, it has been bypassed by web-based tools.

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Office Migrations

If migrating from one version of SharePoint to another is complicated and off-putting for many enterprises, the same cannot be said for migrating from one version of Office to Office 2013. Few enterprises reported using consultants, or migration technologies with most offering self-service learning to their employees. Migrations from early versions like Office 2003 required more training. That said, most enterprises reported that:

  • Office migrations were not a challenge even if 28 percent found that resolving application compatibility is challenging. The average upgrade took a year, but nearly one in five reported that their recent upgrade took more than 18 months.
  • On top of moving from one Microsoft suite to another, most also used tools Microsoft provided to carry out the migration. That said, a quarter still used third-party tools, which tend to be more advanced and function-rich than the tools offered by Microsoft.
  • Less than one third offered live training in migration practices with the vast majority leaning migration techniques from self-service eLearning provided by the enterprise.

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Office Alternatives Gain Little Traction

With these kinds of figures, then, it is hardly surprising to find that Office alternatives are finding little traction. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are more popular in Europe, particularly in the public sector, with NGOs turning to lightweight alternatives to save money. If enterprises are providing certain enterprise departments with alternatives, it is very limited. The survey shows that:

  • Compatibility with Microsoft Office formats is considered critical, and the key factor when choosing solutions. Even if employees are able to standardize on the open document format, interoperatibily is still an issue for those that have to share files.
  • New capabilities are important to many with email integration the second most important factor when choosing a solution. Social and team collaboration were both considered important.
  • Some organizations provide alternatives to Office, although 90 percent give everyone the full version, indicating that 10 percent don’t. IN cases where Google Apps has been introduced, enterprises tend to wait to see about adoption rates before pulling b it’s out of Office. IBM Docs has not been around long enough for anyone to decide whether to go with it or not.

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Microsoft Office Dominates

If there are lightweight alternatives available to enterprises they are, as yet, being ignored.  Office is still costly to license, but until there is a culture change in the enterprise it looks set to dominate for the next couple of years at least.

The problem, Forrester says, is that the debate over switching to low-cost, light weigh alternatives is being driven by IT,  not by enterprise workers. In this respect, it contrasts productivity suites with Bring-Your-Own-Device strategies.

In the later, the move is being driven by enterprise employees that are forcing the issue by bringing their own devices into the enterprise. In contrast, productivity users are, to a large extent, using Office at home and are expecting to use it in the workplace.

Leaving document compatibility issues aside, these means that it will be very difficult to take it off them and replace it with something else. This holds true even in economies that can’t afford Office, like China, where enterprises continue to use Office even where, according to Forrester, 90 percent of Office deployments are pirated.

For the moment, then, it’s Office all the way, which should give Microsoft reason to be cheerful, even if in other areas it is still struggling to gain a foothold.