Deploying Microsoft Office 2007

Despite what you might hear, the process is trickier than you might hope

A Microsoftee will tell you that deploying Office 2007 is as simple as adding it to a WIM (Windows Imaging Format) file. Theoretically, we don’t disagree, but practically, no way, no how. You’ll need additional tools for this job, and the best places to look are Microsoft’s BDD (Business Desktop Deployment) 2007 kit and the Office 2007 Resource Kit (see also the Test Center Analysis "Microsoft tools ease Vista deployment").

A key tool in BDD for Office migrators is the OMPM (Office Migration Planning Manager), which allows admins to scan larger environments to find out what Office apps are running, what versions they are, and what file types and exist. This will let you know who can receive an Office 2007 upgrade, what that upgrade will entail, and whether or not you need to migrate any of the data.

Actually deploying Office 2007 is done using the same BDD tools as those used to deploy Vista, since the basic process is simply to make Office 2007 part of the base Vista WIM file installation.

Getting Office 2007 into a WIM file begins with installing all the files from your Office DVD to a network directory.

Now you launch the Office Customization Tool by running setup off the command line. A series of broad customization options will pop up in a pane, from which you can drill down to more detailed options. When you’re done making your customizations, you can save the whole thing as an add-on file, which Setup will look for when it’s run off this network installation point.

You’ll install this customized version when you’re creating a Vista master installation — before snapping a disk image. Test your Vista customizations first, then run your Office installation. Now test your Office customizations the same way. If everything shakes out, simply snap a WIM image and you’re ready to deploy.

That covers raw installations, but not upgrading. Microsoft, however, recommends such ground-up installations — as do we after attempting an “upgrade” installation of Vista. Blowing away everything on each machine and beginning from the ground up results in a faster, more stable install.

Fortunately, Microsoft’s USMT (User State Migration Toolkit) eases upgrading from Office 2003 to Office 2007 this way. But using USMT doesn’t excuse you from a significant planning phase — Office 2007 introduces a new file format that’s incompatible with Office 2003 and Office 2000. For companies rolling out Office 2007 in bits and pieces (i.e., department by department), this can create real problems for people working on the same document.

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You can handle this only two ways: First, simply educate your Office 2007 users to always select the Office 2003 file format option when saving. Easy, but that human-error factor has buried so many of us on IT boot hill. Alternatively, you can install the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack on PCs still running Office 2003. This allows those PCs to take files in the Office 2007 format, convert them to 2003 and then work with them. Of course, they’ll stay in the older format after that, so if Office 2007 users pick them up again, there might be a bit of initial confusion.

Overall, Microsoft has done a decent job anticipating users’ Office 2007 deployment needs and providing tools to manage them. Deploying as part of a WIM image is definitely a plus; however, we couldn’t edit the customization settings on an existing Office 2007 WIM installation the way we could with Vista. (At least, we couldn’t find an easy way to do it.) Best simply to make a WIM image for largely different Office installations.

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