"You're putting yourself at risk by staying on Office 97," says Ken Smiley, director of research at Giga, an industry analyst firm based in Cambridge, Mass. "By no means should people be on it beyond next year. The sooner they get off, the better."
Microsoft's Office 97 has been plagued by a security flaw of late. The flaw allows someone to bury an information or file request into a Word document and send that document to someone else. When that person sends the file back, it will return with the file requested off that person's hard drive. The flaw also affects Office 2000 and 2002, so Microsoft is working on a fix for it.
The crux of the situation, according to Smiley, is that if this was merely a problem for Office 97, Microsoft might not fix it at all, or if it did, the fix wouldn't make it to the fast track.
"Office 97 is now out of the quick-fix engineering timeframe," says Smiley. "If I have Office 97 on my desktop and I find a problem, I can't go to them and say fix this under my support contract...Microsoft has promised to release security fixes for Office 97 -- if it's a security fix that Microsoft deems worthwhile.
"You're at a higher level of risk because you're putting yourself at the mercy of Microsoft to decide if they want to fix flaws or not," adds Smiley.
And more than a few companies are still using the software, which was released back in November of 1996.
Microsoft spokespeople won't put any numbers on it, but Smiley says a recent survey of just 90 to 100 of their corporate clients were running a total of 400,000 seats of Office 97. "If you extrapolate that, I've got to believe there still millions of copies of Office 97 being used out there," he says.
And the bad economy, the layoff of IT workers and slashed IT budgets are a good chunk of the reason that many companies haven't upgraded yet.
"For some clients, they failed to budget for it last year and couldn't this year," says Smiley. "They're trying to get along [with it] as long as they can to save some money. They might not have the funds to upgrade their desktops and with IT layoffs they might not have the manpower to do it either."
Smiley recommends that users running a Microsoft shop look at Office XP, because buying the latest system will buy them the most time before they have to upgrade again. And for those not running a purely Microsoft shop, he says they should consider Open Source or Sun's Star Office, as lower-priced alternatives.