Microsoft support for Office 2003
ends in April 2014. Your 2003 version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will
continue to work, but they’ll no longer be updated. Any future flaws found will
remain unfixed, so I strongly recommend that you switch to an actively maintained
software suite.

Your upgrade options include
several office suites: LibreOffice, Office 2013, Office Web Apps, Office 365,
iWork, or Google Apps. Each of these suites includes an app to create documents,
spreadsheets, and presentations, and each of the suites can import Office 2003
files. However, complex files may not import with 100% accuracy into any new
system.

The applications, services, and
pricing of the newer suites differs from Office 2003. Application offerings
vary: Microsoft doesn’t offer web versions of Publisher or Access, although web
alternatives exist. Office 365 and Google Apps offer services that weren’t
available in 2003, such as hosted email for your domain (e.g.,
you@yourcompany.com). And many people find low on-going subscription pricing
more attractive than high one-time purchase pricing. Free software — and
software offered with the purchase of new equipment — also complicates the decision-making process.

The chart below (Figure A) summarizes the applications, services, and pricing of these newer suites compared to Office 2003. However, I realize the chart omits many subtleties, and that many other alternative solutions exist.

Figure A

 

 

Here are a few upgrade options for people
still using Office 2003 when support ends in April 2014.

If you haven’t yet upgraded from
Office 2003 to a newer suite, here’s my take on a few alternatives.

1. LibreOffice.org: A (mostly) drop-in equivalent for the core apps

If you prefer installed software
and just need the core word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation apps, LibreOffice
might be the simplest — and least expensive — option. LibreOffice offers an
extremely solid suite built on an open-source code base, which means it is free
and freely distributable.

Figure B

 

 

LibreOffice might be the cheapest and easiest replacement for basic Office 2003 needs.

You can simply download and install
it from LibreOffice.org. (In enterprise environments, you can “centrally manage and lock down the configuration with Group Policy Objects via Active Directory.”) Recent releases have improved Office file compatibility. Many Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents
import and open with no problems. LibreOffice does have a database, called
“Base,” but you can’t just import a Microsoft Access file and continue work.

The LibreOffice user interface
resembles Office 2003 more than any other alternative listed here. For basic
document users seeking minimal change, LibreOffice works.

2. Office Professional 2013: Replacement with a new interface

Office Professional 2013 provides
the most complete software replacement for Office 2003 from Microsoft. All the
apps are there, but with a significantly changed interface. People moving to
2013 from 2003 should allow some time to learn the new user interface. Also,
the full retail cost of Office Professional 2013 is just under $400. (Volume
corporate licensing will be less, of course.) Subscription alternatives may be
worth a look.

Figure C

 

 

Microsoft Office Professional 2013.

Office 2013 has a clean look, but as of February 2014, not all Office 2013 installed apps have Office Web App equivalents.

A note about Microsoft Access
alternatives

In the long term, if you have an
Access 2003 database, you’d be well served to do a thorough migration project:
build, buy, or subscribe to a new database system. I recommend this course of
action regardless of which suite you select. If you use Access 2003, you have a
database selection project to complete before April 2014.

3. Office Web Apps: Core functions of the core apps in a browser, free

If you only rarely use basic
features of Microsoft Office, you might simply uninstall Office 2003 and just use
Office Web Apps. Go to SkyDrive.com (soon to be renamed OneDrive.com), and login
to access browser versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Outlook.com can be
configured to receive email for a custom domain. For more info, see Ed Bott’s
article, “Why I use Outlook.com for my custom email accounts (and how you can too).” For people seeking a free alternative to the no-longer-available
free version of Google Apps, this is about as close a solution I’ve found.

A note about Microsoft Publisher
alternatives

As of February 2014, Microsoft
doesn’t offer a web-based version of Microsoft Publisher. The best web-based
alternative to Microsoft Publisher I’ve found is Lucidpress (see my prior
article, “Desktop publishing from the browser”). An open-source, installed software alternative is Scribus.

4. Office 365 Small Business Premium: Domain mail with web apps (an
upgrade for more)

Office 365 offers enterprise domain
email services, combined with access to Microsoft’s full suite of installed and
web apps. If you can afford it, this is the most comprehensive upgrade option.
You get all the installed apps along with hosted email and web services. The
only concern may be cost: Office 365 operates on a subscription model. A
subscription that includes the full-installed version of Office apps will cost
around $150 per user, per year.

5. iWork: New operating system, new suite

For single users — or very small
groups of users — moving to the Mac and/or iOS world may be worth a look. Apple
provides the iWork suite of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote free with all new
systems running the Mavericks (or later) operating system. While this move
won’t be viable for many organizations, it might work for individuals already
using iOS devices: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote work on both iOS and Mac.

Figure D

Apple’s iWork suite is free with newly purchased Mac and iOS devices.

6. Google Apps: Domain mail with web apps (extend with the Marketplace)

Google Apps offers enterprise
domain email services, combined with access to Google’s full suite of web apps:
Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive (Docs, Sheets, and Slides), Sites, Groups,
Google+, Hangouts, and more. Scott Matteson provided an excellent detailed
write-up comparing Microsoft and Google’s offerings in his post, “10 comparisons between Google Apps and Office 365.” A Google Apps subscription costs $50 per user, per year.

Figure E

Google Apps provides native web apps that work best in Chrome.

A note about App Marketplaces

Both Google Apps and Microsoft
Office offer app marketplaces. However, the Google Apps Platform has been available much longer and has more meaningful
app integrations. For example, I use two apps, MindMeister and Lucidpress,
connected via the Google Apps Marketplace. I access each with my Google Apps
login. In one case, I export a MindMeister mindmap to a Google Drive document in
an outline format. In the other, I fill a text area in a Lucidpress page layout
with content from a Google Drive document. Google Apps is designed for the
web world, where applications can push and pull information (with permission)
across application boundaries.

Choose your future carefully before you upgrade

The end of life of Office 2003
offers a chance to rethink the tools you use. 

The simplest upgrade path for
Office 2003 may be to use LibreOffice, because the interface presents minimal change,
the feature set closely matches Office 2003, and it’s free.

The obvious upgrade path may be to
Office 365 Small Business Premium (or similar enterprise options). This
provides familiar installed desktop tools, alongside web alternatives, with
hosted email services. But Microsoft’s Web Apps presently lack robust access to
APIs: data in web documents remains isolated.

By moving to Google Apps from Office
2003, you gain hosted email services, along with all of Google’s native web apps
and access to the Google Apps Platform. The switch undoubtedly involves time to
migrate documents and learn new tools. But the difference is that you’ll be in a
web-native world, where you have the flexibility to choose — or build — web
tools if needed.

The choice is yours. Which upgrade
path has your organization chosen? Share your experience and thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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