Microsoft will call it quits not only on Windows XP in less than two months, but will also pull the plug on Office 2003 the same day.
After April 8, Office 2003, which debuted on Oct. 21, 2003, will no longer receive security updates, no matter which flavor of Windows it's running on.
Although Microsoft has made noise about ditching Windows XP, it has spoken infrequently about Office 2003's deadline. One of the few places on its website where it has talked about the latter's end-of-life, or EOL, is here.
"We're seeing the same kind of pockets as with XP," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, of Office 2003 users in business. "A lot of people were on holding patterns with XP and didn't upgrade from Office 2003 to Office 2007."
Michael Silver of Gartner agreed. "There's a correlation between the success of Windows and the success of the Office that came out around it," he said. "Because of Vista, because of the timing, because of the costs, a lot of organizations skipped Office 2007."
When companies began migrating from XP to Windows 7 -- a process that continues even as the former's retirement deadline looms -- they also migrated from Office 2003 to Office 2010, even though a newer version of the latter has been available for more than a year.
"You might say the same [about a correlation] about Windows 8 and Office 2013," Silver said, adding that uptake for Office 2013 has been slow in enterprises. "It's because so many organizations are still in the midst of their Windows 7 migration [that they've ignored Office 2103]. They didn't want to change that Windows 7-Office 2010 plan, and decided to continue that."
But Silver pegged the prevalence of Office 2003 as more than the pockets Miller portrayed. "It's probably in the 30% to 40% range," Silver said.
Office 2003's successor, Office 2007, was bypassed for another reason: Some customers detested its new "Ribbon"-style interface, which was championed by Julie Larson-Green, then with the Office engineering group but subsequently an important executive in the Windows 7 and Windows 8 teams. She is now head of the company's Devices and Studios, responsible for the Surface line of hardware.
The Ribbon-ized Office 2007, and its follow-ups, Office 2010 and Office 2013, have continued to earn scorn from some long-time users. But the initial criticism about the user interface (UI) change died down much more quickly than that aimed at Windows Vista, which launched around the same time as Office 2007, or the UI complaints aimed now at Windows 8.
With the end of public support, Microsoft will no longer provide security patches for Office 2003. And Microsoft has been aggressively patching Office 2003: In 2013, it released 10 security bulletins for the edition. It has shipped one so far this year.
"But folks don't worry as much about support for Office as they do for an operating system," said Silver. "There's definitely a risk in running Office 2003 [after patches stop] but you can do a lot of things to reduce the risk significantly, such as turning macros off by default."
The lack of security updates will present special problems to consumers and small business customers running Windows XP and Vista, as the newest editions of the suite, Office 2013 and Office 365, run only on Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1.
(Large organizations with enterprise and Software Assurance agreements can upgrade from Office 2003 -- if they are still running the 11-year-old suite -- to any newer Office edition.)
Microsoft no longer sells Office 2007 or 2010, the latest versions that run on XP and Vista, either direct or to distributors, but online retailers still have the latter in stock. Newegg, for example, sells Office 2010 for between $100 and $480, depending on the SKU (stock keeping unit) and whether installation media is included.
Miller pointed out that Office 2003 and Windows XP were not the only pieces of Microsoft's portfolio to roll into retirement on April 8.
"It's not just Office 2003, it's not just the front end but it's also the back end. Exchange [Server] 2003 also leaves support that day," Miller said.
As happened to Windows XP and Office 2003, users hung on to Exchange Server 2003, skipping the next edition, Exchange Server 2007. Most enterprises migrated to Windows 7, Office 2010 and Exchange Server 2010 around the same time.
"We're seeing more Exchange holdouts because [the software] was often installed on Windows Server 2003," said Miller, referring to the server-side software that leaves support mid-July 2015. "This could end up being a big thing this year and next, because it's a bigger transition. Some customers are still running Windows Server 2003 on 32-bit hardware, but since that version, it's been all 64-bit. So they may not have the hardware."
For Miller, the migration-from-Server 2003 story will be one to watch carefully.
Coincidentally, Microsoft will also stop serving patches to Office for Mac 2011 Service Pack 2 (SP2) on April 8, and require all users of the OS X edition to run Service Pack 3 to receive and install security updates.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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