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Recently I've squirreled myself away working on a project that had an utterly predictable answer leaving me feeling, why on earth did I bother!?

What am I talking about? Migrating from Microsoft Office to an alternative product like Google, Lotus Symphony, Zoho, OpenOffice or Ability.

Microsoft Office has long been a mighty cash-cow in the Microsoft farm-yard for many a year now but it has a singular big weakness, the chink in the armour and that is the licensing cost. On face value it's price is head and shoulders above the opposition which is brought into stark contrast when many of the alternatives are free. This is enough of an attraction for any CTO looking to slash money off a budget specially in what is likely to be a difficult financial year.

However, my advice is find out how embedded Visual Basic for Application (VBA) is into your organisation and what it's doing because it could indeed be adding considerably more value than it costs!

Someone once said that there is more lines of COBOL in the world today than any other language. Well I bet there is actually now more lines of VBA.

Microsoft wishes an end to VBA in favour of .Net based languages, such as VSTA and VSTO but there is no clear migration path for VBA code other than re-writing it and little incentive as I can't find a statement to say that it's being discontinued but there doesn't mean there isn't one and it works just fine in Office 2007.

So sunny days for VBA well only because Microsoft perhaps realised that most of the people that crank out VBA code aren't in an IT department but people in business areas. So culling VBA isn't such a smart idea.

VBA is well liked by people in business as it allows them to write what they need. Rewriting all that code investment wouldn't be popular specially if there isn't any real benefit other than keeping pace with latest computer languages trends which has never been a major business imperative. 

It's actually to Microsoft advantage to keep VBA as it effectively makes it a sod to migrate, it is infact the best kind of lock-in. Some would say it's a Win-Win. Microsoft keeps the cash-cow going, the business is happy because they are empowered.

So is IT the losers? Many would argue that business people performing their own development is taking work straight from developers. I don't agree. There isn't enough developers on the planet to meet demand so other ways have to be found. Business people writing in VBA is a classic symptom of just that. Are you going to tell me that it's just because of bureaucracy?

Business people as a rule don't write good code unless they are taught and standards are defined and adhered to. So you are left with three choices, two easy, one hard. The two easy choices are get developers to code or teach business people how to do it properly. The third choice is IT writes services, business uses tools/applications that consume them. Why this is hard is because the business and IT need to work closer together, they need to align better and this is hard. This is obviously the best approach but for many a company it takes years of investment and frankly many organisations just can't wait or afford to do that.

What about supporting business critical functions using VBA? To be honest, it is now. Get over it. De-risking isn't taking under IT control and re-writing it in .Net. De-risking it is easy to change and maintain, it's it secure, does it have a detrimental effect on anything and there is continuity plan. This kind of planning doesn't need to be done just by IT, just IT is good at this kind of stuff. So if you are going to look after VBA, then ask yourself do you have to raise your game?

VBA wouldn't surprise me if it was the language that makes the business world go round. Realising that and even taking advantage could push your business forward amazingly if done well or wrap you up in a choking spaghetti that will take you time and money to fix or re-write.

So my last thought is go and do your homework and find out how much VBA is embedded into your business!

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2008 6:53 PM Main | Back to top

Comments on this post: Why you can't migrate from Microsoft Office even if you want to

# re: Why you can't migrate from Microsoft Office even if you want to
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The amazing thing is that despite all of what you have said above, Microsoft have gone ahead and dropped VBA support in the latest release of Office for the Mac. Their main market for the product is Mac users who need to keep compatibility with PC's, and with the ubiquitous VBA macros scattered all over businesses suddenly with the new version, vital spreadsheets don't work any more!
Left by Richard on Feb 01, 2008 1:21 PM

# re: Why you can't migrate from Microsoft Office even if you want to
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I didn't look into the Mac side of the story, to be honest I think that few really have, unless they use a Mac for business or as there machine where they do everything on.

So how do you write Macro's in Mac for Office then? Or has that feature gone as well?

Anyway it sounds like an aim gun at foot job!

Anyway, thanks for bringing that to my attention Richard.
Left by Dave Oliver on Feb 02, 2008 8:21 AM

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