The user interface (UI) for Office 12, the name for next year's update to Microsoft Office 2003, "will differ significantly from its current form," said Gartner analysts Michael Silverberg and Stephen Kleynhans in a customer note on the firm's Web site.
The pair put the spotlight on Office 12's new command "ribbon."
"The familiar menus and buttons found in Office will be replaced with a larger, more detailed 'ribbon,' which will change according to the user’s task," wrote Silverberg and Kleynhans. "This ribbon will offer more immediate feedback and previews on actions the user takes."
The downside of dramatic UI changes, however, is that migration may be rough for some users and the IT departments which support them, cautioned the guys from Gartner.
"Microsoft contends that, in the long run, the new UI will reduce help-desk costs and training…but many IT organizations are likely to feel that, in the short run, they will have to train users on the new UI, and will experience an initial spike in help desk calls," said Silverberg and Kleynhans. "In addition, because of the magnitude of the changes expected with Office 12, IT departments may have trouble supporting a mixed environment, adding to the difficulty of handling a phased implementation on new PCs."
The burden of proof is Microsoft's responsibility, the analysts added. "[It] will have to prove that, in aggregate, help desk calls and training costs will be reduced, rather than increased."
Their recommendations ranged from the cautious -- enterprises should demand testing tools from Microsoft as they put the second Office 12 beta through its paces -- to the extremely cautious.
"Companies that are conservative adopters of new technology should consider waiting until Windows Vista is deployed, possibly skipping Office 12 entirely, and letting other companies discover any potential weaknesses or flaws."