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How do you solve a problem like MS Office?

MS OfficeForget Windows. Office is Microsoft's sacred cash cow. The one-true king of the MS desktop. And the productivity suite's success, Windows and Mac, is astounding.

According to Forrester Research, as of June 2009 Microsoft Office was used in 80 percent of businesses. It may surprise the ribbon-phobics out there to learn that roughly 80 percent of those installations were Microsoft Office 2007. It ain't cheap, so that means a whole lot of ‘kerching' going on at Microsoft Towers. Given the importance of the Office revenue stream, there has to be.

But as the Grand Old Duke of York once said: at the top, there's only one place to go. And despite the relative success of Office 2007, no-one *really* likes it. (Am I wrong?)

See also: Microsoft Office 2010 review

2007's big 'upgrade' was the ditching of traditional drop-down menus, replaced by the infamous 'ribbon'. Whether this was, as Microsoft said, an attempt to get users to utilise more of Office's mighty power, or an attempt to make it look different, is moot.

That Redmond acknowledges how much functionality is unused, and the accusation of change for change's sake, say the same thing: Microsoft must do more to sell new Office licences. Those who need it, have it. Why upgrade when your credit's crunched?

Office can do a tonne of things people never use. Adding functions is pointless. At this maturity, it's impossible to build a game-changing application. (For this month's homework, see: Windows XP vs Windows Vista.)

Microsoft's answer is to give Office 2010 away in a lengthy beta, hoping that to use it, is to love it. A cynic might say that it also wants you to get used to using docx files, so as to make return to Office 2003 too painful. Microsoft will offer free hosted web versions of Office 2010, too, to counter the nascent threat of freebies such as Google Docs.

Will it work? You decide. Format compatibility gripes aside, and with free and low-cost alternatives available, now is a great time to be productive in the office.

See also: Microsoft Office 2007: 10 things you need to know

See also: Free Office 2007 conversion toolkit launched

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