The MS Office 2003 ultimatum: Upgrade or else!

Microsoft Office products users are faced with some important decisions about the effects of Office and Access updates following an e-mail sent from Microsoft’s sales force last week about the changes they have to make.

Microsoft Corp. lost a patent infringement claim last year that was filed against the software giant by Carlos Armando Amado, who developed code to link Access with Excel documents in 1990 when he was attending Stanford University. After unsuccessfully trying to sell it to Microsoft, two years later he sued for $2 for every copy of software sold that contained it. Amado was only awarded one out of 10 counts filed and received a US$8.9- million settlement.

This case and other high-profile patent litigation suits like the current Research In Motion situation highlight the need for organizations to look at best practices surrounding managing the intellectual property risks around their IT investments.

Customers like the Alberta Cancer Board (ACB), which has approximately 1,200 licensed Office users, are evaluating whether to upgrade to Office 12, due out later this year, or apply Service Pack 2. The issue is a sensitive one: at least one Office customer did not want to speak with on the record for the purposes of this article.

ACB, based in Edmonton, is using Computer Associates’s asset tracking tool and is consulting its legal counsel to determine what steps to take next. As a health-care institution, ACB has to consider the implications of installing the patch such as security and protection of patient information, said Martin Blum, manager of communications and client services of the provincial government agency.

“It’s still under investigation from our tech support people because we want to know if it impacts anything else,” said Blum in an interview with Monday. “Any new software, because we are a health-care organization, we just don’t go willy-nilly and patch everything and you hope for the best.”

Blum did not know how many PCs were affected by the updates at press time.

To help out customers like ACB with systems management, an Ottawa-based company has developed a reporting tool that allows companies to quantify the number of desktops using Office 2003 or Access within their IT environments. AssetMetrix Research Labs, a division of AssetMetrix, Monday released the results of its study on Microsoft Office installations. It found that 22 per cent of installations were affected by the requirement to update the productivity suite and associated Access database software. ACB only has one or two special licences for Access, so it is likely they are not affected by that update.

For the purposes of the study, AssetMetrix analyzed 593,000 systems in North America based on a random sampling from its knowledge base. It also discovered that 68 per cent of Office 2003 and Office XP installs contained the affected Access code.

“Each of our clients has the capability to quickly and efficiently discover all the attributes, hardware and software, of their Windows devices across the enterprise regardless of geography or connectivity,” said AssetMetrix CEO Jeff Campbell.

The tool, which can identify up to 420,000 different software titles, can be deployed in three ways: through Web servers or domain servers on the network; via the Web; or it can be put on a disk or executed via the network. The tool works alongside with systems management software such as Microsoft’s SMS suite to measure their effectiveness.

“It provides benchmarking by quantifying the potential impact to an organization,” said Campbell. “It also helps organizations specifically quantify it within their own organization and then make better decisions on whether to react. If they decide to react, it tells them which set of tools they should use to plan the update.”

For now, ACB will focus on conducting quality assurance tests to determine its next move.

“Each case has to be looked at on its own merits,” said Blum. “Be it RIM, be it Microsoft, it has to be on a case-by-case basis and we will talk to our legal counsel as well.”

Microsoft Canada customers are facing Office issue just as the subsidiary announced a change in leadership. The companys said Monday Phil Sorgen will be taking over as president following David Hemler’s departure in December. Sorgen, who has been with Microsoft Corp. since 1996 and was most recently general manager for Microsoft’s Gulf Coast District, was not available to speak with by press time.

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