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Word Compare Myths Busted – Part 4 …or Mind the Gap

And, finally, Norm Thomas of Litéra adds his comments on the Microsoft Word Compare debate…

In nearly a decade and a half at Microsoft, the two most common laments I received from enterprise customers consistently dealt with its licensing complexity and Microsoft Office’s proverbial “gap.” The “gap” lament goes like this: “Office (in general) and Word (in particular), gives us 90-95% of what we need. When will Microsoft finally close the gap and furnish the remaining functionality required to run our business?”

The answer? Probably never.

Here’s why:

• There are 600 million users of Microsoft Office and it’s hard to imagine that closing the gap will add many more. Microsoft is heavily focused now on Azure, Office 365, Dynamics and the next version of Windows, all in an effort to compete better with Apple and Google.

• Tallying all legal-related professionals worldwide and rounding generously upward, I once estimated about 11 million current Microsoft Office users would benefit from closing the gap. I was politely reminded by Office product managers that this represents less than 2% of all Office users. (Our itals)

• The level of effort and specialized expertise needed to close the gap is enormous. Litéra for example, has one patent plus several pending and 11 years’ investment in perfecting the software needed to provide professional grade capabilities that attorneys require to have confidence in their content.

In effect, complaining that Microsoft Office meets only 95% of attorneys’ needs is like scorning British Airways for bringing you all the way from Heathrow to JFK but not to the New York Hilton.  

There is an entirely different mode required to bridge the gap. There always will be. The same Word functionality my 14-year old daughter uses in school isn’t intended to be sophisticated enough to support crafting and comparing documents on which vast sums – and reputations – rest.  

So impatiently drumming our fingers and waiting for Microsoft is missing the point. The challenge with debating “native” Word’s sufficiency in the meantime is that it mistakenly begins and ends with tools and technology instead of with end users. This creates a kind of echo chamber of huckstering vendors rather than paying attention to what law firms actually need.

A few examples:

• In 2008, Clifford Chance published an authoritative study on the adequacy of native Word 2007’s new tri-pane document comparison. Their conclusion presented in London on 27 February by Darshna Dave was that the gap remains. (Besides a bug-fix in comparing footers, no improvements were made in Word 2010.)

• In just the past eight months, 10 law firms out of the Global 50 migrated to Litéra when tossing out their legacy application, instead of running “native” Word. They did so in part because they wanted to fill the gap with technology that easily compares the full gamut of embedded objects including Excel, Visio, photos and Chemdraw diagrams, among others.

• Common user scenario: An attorney drafts an agreement in Word, converts it to PDF, emails it to a client and receives a signed fax in return. Does the fax match what was sent, letter for letter, number for number? Using Word won’t address this and isn’t intended to.

The real challenge for us in legal IT is not that Microsoft is too big or that we are too small. The challenge is to innovate processes and then develop the best technology to support the innovation. As respected fellow travelers in the industry, software vendors can fuss over their respective new features and functions endlessly. Meanwhile end user attorneys are still performing their work essentially the same way they did over a decade ago.

The sometimes pedantic business of meeting attorneys’ needs means envisioning what they could be doing differently tomorrow rather than debating the relative capabilities of what’s available today. The point here is how to expertly compare documents, not vendors.