February 6, 2006 4:09 PM PST

Office upgrade could trap many businesses

Related Stories

Patent spat forces businesses to upgrade Office

January 30, 2006
Microsoft's recent warning that customers must use an updated version of Office in new installations is likely to affect a significant number of businesses, according to a study.

The software maker said last month that as the result of a patent dispute, companies will have to use tweaked versions of Office XP and Office 2003 when they install the software on new machines.

AssetMetrix said on Monday that its research shows that more than one in five corporate computers running Office use the version that Microsoft was forced to update. Of the remaining 78 percent, the majority are older versions, the Canadian asset tracking firm said. That means as companies upgrade their PCs, they will likely have to move to the specially patched versions of Office.

"If you are running Office XP or Office 2003 Professional, there is some likelihood that you are affected by this," AssetMetrix CEO Jeff Campbell said in an interview.

The issue relates to a verdict last year by a jury in Orange County, Calif., which found in favor of a patent claim by Guatemalan inventor Carlos Armando Amado. Microsoft was ordered to pay $8.9 million in damages for infringing Amado's 1994 patent.

As a result of the case, Microsoft said it was forced to change the way Microsoft's Access database interacts with its Excel spreadsheet. The company has started sending e-mails to many of its customers worldwide, telling them that all new installations of Office XP and Office 2003 have to use newly updated versions that include the change.

"It was recently decided in a court of law that certain portions of code found in Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, Microsoft Office Access 2003, Microsoft Office XP Professional and Microsoft Access 2002 infringe a third-party patent," Microsoft said in an e-mail to customers seen by CNET News.com. "As a result, Microsoft must make available a revised version of these products with the allegedly infringing code replaced."

Although companies are not required to go back and update already installed copies of Office, Campbell said that many companies have policies that require all machines to be on the same version.

"For many of our customers, the disparity of versions is an issue for them," he said.

Microsoft downplayed the results of the AssetMetrix study.

"The court ruling only impacts customers in the process of new installations and any future installations of the affected products," Sunny Jensen Charlebois, a senior product manager at Microsoft, said in a statement on Monday. "The AssetMetrix report and tools only focus on existing installations and are not relevant to this patent case since this requirement is for new installations, not existing ones."

Charlebois also pointed out that even if they don't update existing machines, customers are covered by the company's indemnification policy, provided they use the patched versions on new installations. That protects them from liability for using Microsoft software that might infringe on a third party's patents.

That said, Microsoft has recommended that customers do move to the newer software.

Garter analyst Michael Silver said that businesses that are using Office 2003 but not ready to move to Service Pack 2 of that program are in somewhat of a bind, given that the service pack is required for the patch.

"Installing the patches on new implementations without testing may be a quick alternative that minimizes legal risk, but risks breaking applications," Silver said in a research note to clients.

An alternative, Silver said, is to install versions of Office without the Access database, particularly for workers who are unlikely to need that program.

Silver notes that although customers don't have to update existing installations of Office, the issue is likely to crop up even at companies that are not doing new installations of Office, as they buy additional PCs or re-image broken ones. One of the challenges, Gartner said, is that for Office 2003, Microsoft has provided a new version only for Office 2003 Service Pack 2, even though many businesses are still using Service Pack 1.

"Microsoft should produce a single patch for Office 2003 SP1," Silver said in an e-mail interview. "SP1 is still supported and installing it, and a patch would be much easier for users than having to test and install a whole service pack, which is what they need to do to comply today."

See more CNET content tagged:
AssetMetrix, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office XP, patent, Microsoft Office 2003

19 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Office 2003 SP2
How long has Office 2003 SP2 been available? I seem to remember installing it sometime before Thanksgiving.
Posted by roger.d.miller (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't believe this..
Aside from the fact that no release of Access has ever been backwards compatible - programs written in a new version can never be read using previous versions. This in itself is frankly astonishing as the program hasn't changed in any significant way for well over 10 years.
They have found a bug in Access?
My personal favorite is that it doesn't necessarily excecute macros in the order you program them in (a newish bug, this one's only been around since Office 2000). Another favorite with my Italian version is that it translates 'form' into 'maschera' and then can't understand the program entry.
All I'm looking for is an open-source equivalent that runs in Linux, and I am not kidding. I will not be changing the version of Access we use, M$ have had more than enough time to fix the bugs, and I will not be advising any of our offices to update the version of Office they are using. It would be a total waste of money.
Posted by Jerry Dawson (125 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you a
moro*!! Did you even read the artical or do you not know english. Firstly this is not a bug its a patent issue and moreover it affect new installations not existing ones.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Link Flag
Compatability
You are correct that a previous version of Access will not work with a database created with a newer version. This can be a headache if a company has a database that is commonly used by many people and just one of those updates their Access. The new version will convert the database. Now you have 1 person who can work with it and everyone else can't. Tracking down the single person can be a headache. There are other compatability issues that irked us to no extent. Macro's from office 97 failed to function when office 2000 was installed. Now that is a forward compatability issue and caused a big mess. I've seen OS patches that would stop the mail from working right so yes, changing revisions IS a big issue. After reading some of the replies, I will stand as someone who will vouche for Jerry Dawson's post. Requiring an upgrade to SP2 to apply this patch is especially demanding. It will bring many other corporate applications to a halt and that can't be tolerated by a business in a competetive environment.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
"All I'm looking for....
... is an open-source equivalent that runs in Linux, and I am not kidding". For me; I have always known that I had to stick to that good old Lotus SmartSuite... I simply love it! OpenOffice... No way! ;-)
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oooooooh Heck!
I am wondering just what project "analyses applications" they are using/planning to use for these and could they be getting "trapped" also (Re: World Bank to consider Cuyuni gold mining project on Feb 10.

The immediate aim of the project is to continue exploration work and complete a bankable feasibility study for the development of gold mines.... : See link:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article?id=41843990" target="_newWindow">http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article?id=41843990</a>

Whoooah! Could one imagine getting trapped using "MS Office" at this critical stage of your project/s! ;-)
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The real problem is patent pirates - not trolls.
Why is Microsoft being sued? Perhaps because others produce the important inventions and Microsoft loves those inventions so much that they just cannot help themselves.

Why does Microsoft have forty or so pending lawsuits at a time? Could it be that those are just the tip of a large iceberg?

In my view Microsoft is a very shrewd predator. While I have a healthy respect for such on an abstract level I have to say that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the way Microsoft and a host of companies who are well known in the inventor community as patent pirates operate.

Microsoft has a vision for our patent system, a vision where others invent and Microsoft takes what the want, when they want, with impunity.

Microsoft and like minded companies are leaders in calling for so called patent reform. Real American inventors know it as patent deform. The promoters of patent deform are a group of generally large companies who have no problem with taking other's intellectual property. Their idea of so called patent reform is all about avoiding the consequences of taking other's intellectual property and stopping the upstart startup companies from relegating the older and less inventive companies to retirement.

What is really sad is that for every inventor who eventually extracts compensation there are ten or more whom Microsoft crushed. They were destroyed, stomped into oblivion with abusive litigation and called "patent trolls" for daring to reach for the American dream. Most of those inventors and the jobs they could have created expired with barely a whimper.

Microsoft and the rest of their peer group of Patent Pirating associates are shipping American jobs to low wage countries and at the same time are destroying the inventor-entrepreneurs who would have created new jobs.

Either we stop companies like Microsoft from preying on American inventors or we will all end up impoverished. PIAUSA is working hard to stop those who steal others intellectual property because we know that the only thing which will preserve American's economic prosperity is being leaders in innovation. Without the ability to launch companies based on inventions we are doomed to ever decreasing economic prospects.

Join www. PIAUSA.org efforts to stop patent pirates from raping and pillaging America's future.

Ronald J Riley, President
Professional Inventors Alliance
www.PIAUSA.org
RJR (at) PIAUSA.org
Change "at" to @
RJR Direct # (202) 318-1595
Posted by Ronald J Riley (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Problem I Noticed
"RJR (at) PIAUSA.org
Change "at" to @"

Are you trying to script your signature? That's not goint to give
you your desired result, you know. The result would be "RJR (@)
PIAUSA.org"

Oh well, back to the drawing board, huh? (That was inventor
humor!)
Posted by djemerson (64 comments )
Link Flag
RIDE THAT CASH COW BILLY BOB!
Riiiggghhht...

MS Office users must now "upgrade" becaused of MS monopolistic illegal patent "sampling"...?

Uh-huh, right.

This smells of the Y2K UPDATE NOW or face doom &#38; destruction of all Windows PC's with "outdated BIOS" scam that forced millions to buy new computers with new versions of Windows preinstalled before 2000.

MS-OS &#38; Office are known to be the "cash cows" of Redmond Campus.

What a pile of bull dooty Billy Bob.
First your "virtual bull" Longhorn OS &#38; now this???

Beleagured, legacy monopoly that's holding billions of businesses worldwide hostage.

OPENOFFICE.ORG
FREEOFFICE
break the chains of software slavery today.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Time to switch to free openoffice.org
break the Microsoft monopoly and start using OpenOffice.org. Its compatible with your old MS documents.
Posted by AbuLafya (86 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And NeoOffice for Mac users
NeoOffice is the Mac version of OpenOffice. They just recently released the 1.2 version.
Posted by jeffnailen--2008 (17 comments )
Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.