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The worm in the apple

Via CrunchGear, MacWorld UK, and APC Magazine — Mac Office users seem to have no way of reading the new OOXML files which Office 2007 for Windows writes by default. APC quotes a Microsoft Mac Business Unit spokeperson as saying, “Unfortunately it is still to early for us to say when the converters will be available”.

Whoops.

As a public service I note two alternatives: the Mac port in OpenOffice.org and NeoOffice.


9 December 2006 Update: Interesting analysis from from Andrew Shebanow over at Shebanation: How adding OOXML support to the Mac is likely 150 person-year effort. And Mary Jo Foley’s Unblinking Eye points out that the problem is not just with the Mac support. Windows Mobile 5.0 will lack OOXML support until mid-2007.

Is it just me, or does this seem like something less than a coordinated roll-out? The clean, hassle-free way of doing this, with the least suffering for users and admins, would have been like this: Ship Office 2007 with OOXML support, but not as the default. Then over the next year get the rest of the Office ecosystem working with OOXML: the Mac, Mobile, Sharepoint, Excel Live, etc. Get all of the support out there, but don’t force it on people yet as a default. When all the pieces are ready then, via a service pack or version upgrade, change the defaults. Everything goes smoothly from there.

The fact that they didn’t follow this roll-out model suggests that someone at Microsoft really, really, really wanted to get OOXML out fast, even if it wasn’t pretty.

Luckily admins do have the ability to perform a more orderly roll-out in their organizations if they wish. The default format for Office applications can be changed via a registry entry. For example, for Excel the registry entry is:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Excel\Options\DefaultFormat

By default it isn’t there, but you can create an entry of type REG_DWORD and assign it the value of 56 (38 hexadecimal). Once you’ve made that change, Excel documents will be saved in the legacy binary formats by default. Similar registry settings for Word and PowerPoint are:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Word\Options\DefaultFormat

create REG_SZ with value of “Doc”

and

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\PowerPoint\Options\DefaultFormat

create REG_DWORD with value of 0

It should be trivial for someone with a Windows compiler to create a simple application to accomplish this same task. Ideally it would also allow the default to be changed to any other format of the admin’s choice, including turning it back to OOXML if/when admins desire to deploy that way, or changing it to ODF when a good Plugin is available.

10 December 2006 Update: My attention has been drawn to an earlier post from a lead in Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit, where the removal of support for Visual Basic macros is discussed. Damn, that’s cold. Ever get the feeling you’ve been marked for extermination?

17 May 2007 Update: From News.com “Microsoft delays Office convertors for Mac” and some great follow-up analysis by Andrew Shebanow over at Shebanation.

30 May 2007 Update: More analysis and commentary on this ongoing issue from Joe Wilcox over at Microsoft Watch:

Meanwhile, Microsoft makes big noise about interoperability. What kind of example does Microsoft set when the formats for its Mac and Windows Office suites aren’t interoperable? Irreconcilable is the position of increased Microsoft-and-other platform interoperability and the decreased interoperability between Office file formats across two platforms.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • davidacoder 2006/12/06, 02:57

    MS has now anounced the timing for the converts for the Mac here. They will come, they will be free, but I find that they will come way too late. On the other hand, in the real world it probably doesn’t matter much, given how slowely migrations to new versions normally happen

  • Rob 2006/12/06, 10:53

    Thanks for that info. Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit blog is echoing my earlier recommendation that it is better to change Office 2007 settings so it saves in the binary formats by default until all the conversion work is developed, tested and available:

    “For now, we recommend that Mac users advise their friends and colleagues using Office 2007 to save their documents as a “Word/Excel/PowerPoint 97-2003 Document” (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to ensure the documents can be shared across platforms.”

    I’m curious, not being a Mac person — is Office on the Mac based on the same source code as the Windows Office? Or are these different code bases? It is odd that there is such a delay before the Mac convertors are available, considering that the Windows ones have been available for some time now.

  • Schwieb 2006/12/11, 10:27

    Mac Office and Win Office use completely separate source code trees. The trees split apart about 10 years ago when the MacBU was formed (they were built out of the same tree for Word 6/Excel 5, and during part of the Office 97 cycle.)

    That’s why Mac Office and Win Office development does not happen directly in parallel.

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