By guest blogger, David Ringstrom . . .

As an instructor leading dozens of Excel classes for CPE Link each year, I find that the preponderance of attendees use Excel 2007. A surprising cadre is still holding on to older versions such as Excel 2003, or even Lotus 1-2-3. At some point I’ll need to add Office 365 to my presentations, but I’ll wait until I see folks using it. Microsoft just announced price cuts of up to 20% for the service, likely in hopes of sparking demand.

As daunting as it is to lead classes that cover three different desktop versions of Excel, soon I’ll be adding a fourth version. Excel 15, likely to be dubbed Excel 2012, is currently in a technical preview, or pre-beta, phase. This allows select customers to provide feedback to Microsoft prior to the next phase, which will be a public beta this summer. A final release of the next version of Office is expected by the end of this year.

Microsoft has been particularly tight-lipped about Excel 15 and its other Office suite companions, but information is starting to leak out. Windows 8, currently in beta testing, sports a new touch-optimized Metro look that replaces icons with onscreen tiles. My observation over the years is that Microsoft tends to make major changes every other Office version, so we could be in for changes that are as initially jarring as the Ribbon interface introduced in Office 2007.

Microsoft maintains three levels of support for their products: mainstream, extended, and online self-help. During the mainstream phase, Microsoft issues service packs and provides full levels of support. In the extended phase, primarily security patches are issued, but paid support is still available. The online self-help phase allows users to use the Microsoft Knowledgebase to try to fix problems on their own. Office 2007 enters a five-year extended support phase on October 9, 2012, while extended support for Office 2003 ends April 4, 2014.

Unless you’re chomping at the bit for yet another new Excel interface, my recommendation is upgrade to Office 2010 this year so that you can stay on a supported version and let the dust settle on Microsoft’s Metro and cloud computing changes.