According to Yates, there are very good reasons for people to pay $500 or more for even the soon to be superseded version of Microsoft Office as opposed to paying nothing for a copy of Open Office 2.0, which the Linux crowd will tell you does the job just as well.
'It really depends upon what job you're trying to do. Certainly, if you're just trying to write a few notes or something, Open Office is just fine. The truth is though that Open Office.org is really designed to solve the problems that Microsoft focussed on 10 years ago when the model was an individual user working at their individual PC,' says Yates. 'The world and Microsoft software has grown way beyond that to make it very easy to do what used to be very hard things. Most documents today are not done by one individual. They're done by multiple people working on a project at once. Essentially, Open Office is fine if you have very limited needs because it was really designed around what Microsoft Office products were designed around 10 years ago.'
So can we have some examples please?
'The Microsoft Office product line has gone way beyond that to serve multiple constituencies. We have a home and student version. We have small business versions. We have multiple enterprise versions. It has gone on to encompass working with quite a bit of server software to encompass the real challenges that businesses have today.'
Yates claims that Microsoft in reality presents a compelling pricing proposition compared to Open Office.org.
'The pricing you quoted for Office were quite on the high side compared to what customers really pay whether you're a student or whether you're a business,' he says. 'The way we look at it is that the acquisition cost of the product is very rarely the end of the story. In fact, it's usually the tip of the iceberg in terms of cost. In terms of real cost, you might find a very low number of dollars between the real cost of using Open Office when you factor in deployment costs, migration of documents, training, patching and updating, and really taking care of the software.
'Once you have an apples-to-apples comparison of the real costs of using the software then you can start talking about the benefits. Most people for example do use communications software and Office is very well integrated with real-time messaging software, with email, with calendaring, with tasks, and so on.'
And this is not the case with Open Office.org?
'Open Office doesn't ship with an email client. There are a number of open source email clients that one can find, But, if you look at Office 2003 and use Outlook for your email, you can right click and set up a meeting.; you right click and see if someone's on the phone or in a meeting; you can right click and see their presence information; you can right click and call a meeting of multiple people; you can take a document, immediately share it with multiple people and see if they're available to give comments back to you or not. There is functionality that customers have asked us for and we've delivered well beyond just the ability to write letters and notes.'
But how many people actually use that level of functionality?
'In fact we find a really interesting situation where different people use different parts of the product and we very consciously over the years created a situation where the product has some features that are very important for some users. By design not everyone is using those features. Each different type of usage tends to use different parts of the product more than other parts of the product.
'I think you will see with Office 2007 that we've looked through millions of records of data about how customers actually use the product. What we've tried to do with this product that we're really excited about is to understand it in the context where someone is in a document or spreadsheet or presentation there are certain things that they tend to want to do more often than not. Previously, it's been a little bit too hard to do that with the current menu structure. So we've innovated with what we call the new ribbon user interface which recognises that wherever you are in a document, say in a table, you want certain things available to you. And we've made the changes you can make visual so you can go down through a gallery and pick them - pick something that looks right to you.
'So, some people may not place high demands on Office but they may place unique demands on Office and we've tried to represent that in the product. We've made it easier over the years to enable people to start small and grow with the product.'
According to Yates, criticism from some quarters that Office 2007 is going to introduce a steep learning curve for existing Office users is not going to present a major problem for Microsoft, although he admits the learning curve exists.