MS Office No Longer Essential at Work: Report

Brandon Dimmel's picture

A new report finds that fewer business workers are using Microsoft's Office software package. It's also suggested that many firms are wasting money by shelling out thousands of dollars in licensing fees each year in order to use the software.

The report comes from online application analytics firm SoftWatch, and is based on a three-month study involving 51 companies and roughly 150,000 employees.

Most Workers Only View Documents Using Office

SoftWatch's major finding suggests that roughly seven in ten workers are not relying on any one of Microsoft's various Office applications to do their jobs, including MS Word, Excel, OneNote, or PowerPoint.

The study suggests that most workers only use Office apps to view a document or carry out some light editing, meaning that they weren't using the wide range of advanced features found in these programs. If that were true, then an MS Office suite on an iPad or even an iPhone might actually make sense, contrary to the longstanding belief that office suites don't belong on such devices, especially in a productive, commercial environment. It also coincides with Microsoft's vision that boxed software will be phased out within a decade, and instead be replaced with cloud-based software and annual subscription-based fees.

That aside, SoftWatch says that the average employee spent just 48 minutes using an Office application each day. In many cases that app was Outlook, Microsoft's email client, which consumed 68 per cent of those 48 minutes. Excel came in second place at 17 per cent (eight minutes per day), while Word was third, being used an average of just five minutes per day. (Source:

Vast Majority of Employees "Light" or "Inactive" Office Users

For each application, SoftWatch split employees into several categories, including heavy users, light editors, viewers, and inactive users. It found that almost one in three Excel and Word users only view documents using those applications -- meaning they never actually edit anything. SoftWatch then classified more than half (62 per cent) of all Word users as light users.

For PowerPoint, the results suggest that 70 per cent of all users never actually carrying out any document editing using that application. (Source:

Overall, SoftWatch found that most companies have very few heavy MS Office users.

The report raises some important questions, none more critical than "is Office really essential for the average company?" The underlying suggestion is that many companies would benefit from a transition to cheaper or free cloud-based office platforms, such as Google Apps.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use Microsoft Office at work? If so, do you believe it is an essential tool for you and your fellow workers? Would you be interested in trying alternatives, like Google Apps, or do you think that the transition to these other platforms be too difficult to make?

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drstove's picture

With Libre Office and Open Office available as freeware I can see no reason for companies to invest in Microsoft Office. I would guess that for 98% of users, the freeware office suites can handle any need they may have. As for Outlook, there are many equally fine replacements and work a rounds. With Microsoft eager to make Office a yearly subscription based app, there are even less reasons to keep it around.

Douglas Godbey's picture

Having used MS Office in its various versions since it's first release, I have to agree that the current version is not a useful tool for use in the office. Each step up, version wise, has added more and more complexity to the Suite until you get to the current release, which has continued to rise in complexity. In addition the specification of the .doc format has changed several times with the then current version not supporting the older .doc files. The question that needs to be answered is just how much, feature wise, is needed for the normal operation in an office environment? Do we really need Word with all the bells and whistles, or do we need a good text editor to write letters and such. In my mind, paying out vast amounts of money in licensing fees annually for something that usually only has a fourth of it's features used make no sense. There are too many word processing applications available that will do the same job without the fees.

Those word processors actually come in two distinct classes. One built around MS Wordpad and those that do not. Since Wordpad has been free for use for years, that group of word processors are usually free, too. The others usually cost a minimal fee if anything, and produce usable documents.

If a company actually needs all the bells then fine, but at the cost demanded by MS? I will mention one such package that is totally free of cost, has most, if not all, the features of MS Office, and requires less of a learning curve across releases. Open Office has been available for a long time and has matured into a stellar replacement for MS Office. It has the features and capabilities to stand comparison with Office. The command structure has not changed much over the years which one cannot say for MS Office. It can also support multiple Office Suites (including MS Office) and in multiple versions of each, which MS Office cannot.

To my mind, the Problem is moot!

DavidFB's picture

One thing not yet mentioned is something a number of organizations have reviewed - the archival value of important historical files. If they're in a proprietary format that can only be read on a certain version of old software that will not now run on a modern OS, that format has no archival value. That includes most MS document formats. I've run into this challenge a few times in trying to open an old file.

Thus began the Open Document format standard, which MS has partially copied with the newer XML formats (with x in the file extension).

However, the mentioned Open Office and Libre Office fully support this standard. Thus such suites have become standard in many European organizations.

For myself, over a decade ago I ran into a problem with MS Office locking up my system doing a cut and paste - even when no Office app was running. Their solution was to buy a new version. I then switched to Open Office and more recently Libre Office. I use it quite happily for quite complex tasks. They can open MS files fine and save as if you're sharing with someone who doesn't use the Open Doc standard.

The movement to Web Apps now seems largely driven by anti-piracy and creating an income flow. Some companies may find it advantageous to "lease" software. And I've set up Citrix-based apps that were shared on a concurrent licence basis. But those are specific scenarios. For reliable productivity, installed software is better.

Also, I'm much happier to drive software use on a needs basis than driven by a supplier, something too much of the software industry is about. But there's more money in obsolescence than continuous improvement.

matt_2058's picture

I believe this poll is flawed. What it needs to address is how many people are using what software to PRODUCE documents. Not review. Not edit. Not approve. I'm not talking about an exec typing up a quick memo and firing it off to a secretary. Or a 10-line letter for whatever. Real document production.

I guess I happen to be one of the few who like Office. I don't use all the components and only have a true need for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Maybe Outlook...I once used it as a shared-access scheduling tool in a pinch and it worked great. I've used Access, and would use it more if I had proper training concerning databases.

Everyone is right about other options filling the need to accomplish tasks. However, I find that I've wasted more time working around a missing feature than necessary. Or cleaning up formatting problems because somebody else patched something to look right instead of using the correct features.

The legacy issue? All versions are saved in PDF, with document security. Afterall, who needs to edit a 10-year old document, unless you're doing some CYA. Wouldn't a new version be more appropriate?

ksmichaelsross's picture

One feature of Office that's been ignored here and elsewhere is the ability to automate Office documents. We use Excel as a report writer, and because it opens in Excel, you have the ability to include formulas and custom functions that are not available in other report writing packages. Being able to generate a complex Excel spreadsheet from a number of database queries run from a .NET application is a powerful tool that may be possible with Google or Libre Office, but certainly not as conveniently as it is with the integration between the products from Microsoft.

In our office it would be fair to say that the vast majority of users don't edit documents directly, but they do create them with other software and when they do edit, it's to make minor adjustments to a complex document that has been programmatically created.

xena's picture

While it is true that most people could work in Open Source applications, at my company there are a few, maybe 6-7 out of nearly 100 employees who need the advanced features found in the Microsoft products. Therefore, from a support standpoint, it is better for all users to be using the same application. I would think that this is the biggest reason that you will see companies and governments continuing to stick with Microsoft.