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Genesis 11:5-9

This, fresh from from Office Watch: “Office 2007 compatibility pack disappoints”.

Update 11/15: Some readers have written with more information. This may be an issue between the pre-1.5-final-draft version of OOXML and the final RTM Compatibility Pack. Evidently there were some late changes to the OOXML specification, including a change in namespace URI’s. So the problems seem to be between documents created in the beta version of Office 2007 (not sure whether all beta’s including the Technical Refresh) and the RTM version of Office. Confusing to say the least. It looks like the referenced article is being updated with additional details.

Update 11/7: The cited article updated again. This seems to be an issue related to what patch level you are running. If you have all of the updates applied to Windows/Office, the Compatibility Pack works as advertised.

Since there are a number of convertor initiatives under development, it is probably worth backing up and taking a survey of where we stand today:

ODF = Open Document Format, an XML-based document format used in products like IBM Workplace, the next version of Lotus Notes, OpenOffice.org, KOffice, AbiWord, GNUmeric, etc. ODF is an ISO standard and is maintained at OASIS.

OOXML = Office Open XML, an XML-based format which will be used in Microsoft Office 2007 when it is released in January. OOXML is currently a draft specification in Ecma, though it will certainly be adopted as an Ecma standard in December.

The Legacy Formats = the proprietary binary formats that Microsoft used before Office 2007, the familiar DOC, XLS and PPT files.

So, what can be converted to what, using what, and does it really work?

If you upgrade to Office 2007 when it comes out, you will be able to read and write both the OOXML and the Legacy formats. Both are supported out-of-the-box.

If you want to stay on an older version of Office, and need to exchange documents with someone using the new OOXML formats, then you need Microsoft’s Compatibility Pack. As the above article points out, getting this to work in practice requires first ensuring that your patch level is current.

What about ODF? If you are on Microsoft Office, then there are two initiatives underway to bring ODF support to Office. One is the Microsoft-supported (and now Novell as well) odf-convertor project on SourceForge. Their initial deliverable will be the “ODF Add-in For Microsoft Word”. I didn’t have all that much luck with an earlier “alpha” version of the Add-in, but I’ve heard it is much improved. However, in the near term it only supports reading ODF text documents. No support for writing, and no support for presentations or spreadsheets. These other features are slated to be delivered in future phases of the project. The Open Document Foundation is also developing a convertor, which they call the “ODF Plugin”. Sam Hiser will be presenting on it at XML 2006 in Boston, so hopefully we’ll learn more about it then.

If you are running OpenOffice.org, then you already have excellent integrated conversion support between ODF and the Legacy Office formats. But if you need to exchange documents with someone using Office 2007 and its default OOXML formats then you are out of luck for now. However, please note that the recent Novell/Microsoft agreement included a statement (if I’m reading this correctly) that Novell would help add OOXML support to OpenOffice.org. So this support should eventually make it into OpenOffice.org.

So, based on what really works today, I’d offer this recommendation: If you must upgrade to Office 2007 , then turn the default file formats to be the Legacy binary formats. Until the OOXML convertors mature and all Office users have migrated off the beta and have compatible OOXML versions, you’ll only be causing chaos with those you exchange documents with if you save as OOXML.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • JonBailor 2006/11/14, 9:35 pm

    the referenced Office Watch article has been updated (http://news.office-watch.com/t/n.aspx?articleid=85&zoneid=9)

    from Office Watch:


    Since publishing this item in Office Watch we’ve heard from Microsoft and Office Watch readers.

    Our readers confirm the problem with Excel and Powerpoint files.
    Microsoft is insisting that you should be able to read and write XLSX and PPTX files from within the earlier versions of Office.
    We suspect Microsoft is right, but there’s clearly something screwy going on – we’ll work with MS to see what the magic spell is – then update this article.

    In the meantime we still stongly suggest you get the Compatibility Pack — sooner or later you’ll need it.

  • davidacoder 2006/11/15, 7:14 am

    Hi Rob,

    just two points:

    First: the final version of Office 2007 is available for certain groups before January. MSDN subscription holders can download it since Sunday and volume license users will get it end of November. Only the consumer launch is end of January.

    Second: The report you reference about the problems with the Excel and PowerPoint compatability packs (gee, what a name) is misguided and I can point out why. The first important point: I just tried on my computer the full back and forth of the new file format with Excel between 2003 & 2007 and did the same with Powerpoint. It all works on my machine. What doesn’t work is to open files with the compatability pack that were written with the beta versions of Office 2007. I believe there was a namespace change in the ECMA draft that was only incorporated into the RTM version of Office 2007. Looking at the date of the article you reference (9 November) and the fact that no one outside of MS had a copy of the RTM version of Office 2007 at that time, the authors of that article must have tested interopability between the RTM compatability pack (which was releasd at that time already to the web) and the B2TR beta of Office 2007. That does indeed not work. But the compatability pack does allow full interchange with files from the RTM version of Office 2007. And I am positive about that because I just tried it on my two computers :)

    Maybe you can correct that in your article? Or try it out yourself and then correct? Thanks!


  • Rob 2006/11/15, 8:31 am

    Thanks for the new info. I’ve updated the post accordingly. Any idea why the article says: “There’s no option to save to Office 2007 formats in either Excel nor Powerpoint.” ?? They say they have confirmation on that.

  • davidacoder 2006/11/15, 9:20 am

    That is strange, at least on my computer there is an option for both Excel and Powerpoint 2003 to save into the new formats. Now, the new formats are not exactly on top of the list of file formats, you have to scroll down that list, maybe they just didn’t scroll down?!? I don’t know why they didn’t see it on their computers, but I just double checked on my machine and it certainly works.

    Now, that is a machine that never had any of the prereleased stuff on it. In general with MS stuff, you run into quite a lot of problems when you have a machine that had prerelease versions installed and then try to install the final. Not really recommended ;) But that should not affect to many people, I guess.

  • hAl 2006/11/17, 6:14 am

    Opening legacy documents and saving them in OOXML with the compatibility pack seemed to work fine when I tried it earlier this week.

    Can’t repeat it anymore as the compatibilitypack is not ready for my language pack yet.

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