File compatibility – the office babelfish

As more people install the beta of Office, there are more documents out there in the new file format. Hang on.. Changing the file formats???!!? Are you mad??

But before I start on that, lets revise what have we done and what were the reasons why we did this.  In case you've been living under a rock, check out the excellent channel9 vid where Scoble interviews Brian Jones about the announcement. The file formats for 2007 will change to be fully xml as described by the OpenXML schemas. The standards are going through the standards process with ECMA at the moment.

The extensions of the application documents will get an 'x' added so PowerPoint will be .pptx, Excel .xlsx and Word .docx etc. There are a lot of great information about it here 
What are the benefits of the XML file format?

  • Compression of the XML gives us much smaller file size sometimes only 25% of the previous size
  • Robust because if a corruption occurs, you can still open the document and recover most of it
  • Open and royalty-free specification means developers can work with content in new ways
  • It separates the content from the program that created it.

But this post is not about what is in OpenXML but rather what happens in the situation where someone on 2007 sends, say, a docx file to someone on Word 2000?

The file compatibility pack is available in beta here. Top tip here - you need to fully patch your machine before you install the beta. I tried to skip doing that and it didn't work.

I tested this for example, using a machine with Office 2003 sp2 and the compatibility pack installed on it. I sent the standard "pimp my slide" presentation to it, a slide using SmartArt and ending in .pptx. First, the machine now recognises the file type and correctly associates the .pptx with PowerPoint 2003 and so the right icon is used (goodie). When I opened it, it took a moment longer than usual to open but nothing you'd get annoyed by. Here it is - you can see that it converted the SmartArt into a picture as expected. Basically we do our best to render it to the level your version can understand and if we can't we will "dumb it down" for your version.  Converting a SmartArt to a picture is an example of this.

   (click to expand)

You can also now choose .pptx in the save as.. Dialogue.


This kit will be available as a patch for companies to deploy if the are running older versions of Office so that compatibility for Word, PowerPoint and Excel will be fine. We expect most companies will want to deploy this patch for that reason.


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