Microsoft Pushes the Cloud as Office 2003 Support Ends

Microsoft plans to put Windows XP out to pasture on April 8, 2014, but it’s not the only Microsoft product heading for retirement. The company’s killing its Office 2003 software suite along with the venerable operating system.

Geoff Anderson, Microsoft’s group product manager for Office 365, explained in stark terms what Microsoft means when it ends support for its products. “We won’t release further patches, updates and fixes for Office 2003,” he told Small Business Computing. If malware coders exploit the software or show-stopping bugs surface, don’t count on the company to come to the rescue.

“Businesses that are running Office 2003 need to get off of it,” warned Anderson. “There is a very hard stop coming.”

Office 2003 is also showing its age. “It’s had a very long life and was a phenomenal product in its time,” said Anderson. “But ‘in its time’ is the operative phrase.”

In the 10 years since Office 2003’s release, the personal computing market has experienced some major upheavals. Pocket-sized iPhones and Android smartphones have made on-the-go productivity a reality for mobile small business workers. PC sales have plummeted as people increasingly reach for their tablets instead of folding open their laptops.

Software has changed, too. The rise of cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions changed the way many small businesses “purchase” software. Instead of big upfront outlays for software and the PCs and/or servers required to run it, organizations can subscribe to cloud-based software by paying a generally modest amount each month or year, while maintaining access to the most up-to-date version of the software.

Office 2003 is simply a product of its time. It wasn’t developed to support today’s mobile work styles, nor can it effectively leverage a decade’s worth of innovations—many of them cloud-based—to enhance productivity.

Microsoft Office for the Cloud Era

Anderson’s team at Microsoft has been helping customers transition to Office 365, the company’s latest cloud-enabled version of the product. His company isn’t leaving customers that prefer packaged software out in the cold; they can still buy Office 2013, he assured.

However, moving to Office 365 delivers more bang for the buck, argued Anderson. “Not only are you getting a lot of capability,” he said, Office 365 places most small businesses into a “much easier cash-flow situation.”

Office 365 Small Business Premium “not only includes full Office,” he said referencing the natively installed applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook), it also promotes collaboration by delivering “services for sharing and document storage on the cloud,” as well as Lync, Microsoft’s enterprise-grade communications platform. He added that the software also “includes Exchange for mail, and business-class mail at that.”

With subscription-based pricing, the days of paying big up-front costs and juggling software licenses are over, he said. Office 365 Small Business Premium costs $12.50 per person, per month (billed annually at $150) and includes the desktop versions of the software along with a public website, email and online conferencing.

More importantly, subscribers won’t get stuck in the situation Office 2003 owners now face. Since they essentially always run the latest version of Office, “they never have to think about this upgrade conversation again,” said Anderson.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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