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A more pragmatic, but less common, question about Office Open XML

Geek question.

Assume people collaborate using Microsoft Office documents around (probably by e-mail, but that's another discussion).  

The "97-2003" formats are closed, binary formats, but well readable by applications such as, and now documented by their author (albeit under a specification that the GPL people can't yet get behind).    The 2007 format is more interoperable in the sense it's XML and (mostly) documented and went through an infamous "standardization" process, but is still not widely accepted. I would rather see ODF succeed — potentially with patent-free extensions from Microsoft to allow it to support all the features of Microsoft Office — as the 'standard XML document format'.  

Now we've got all that aside, I prefer .doc to .docx, and it's nothing to do with any of that - it's purely pragmatic, with respect to users of previous versions of Office.

Office 2003 and 2007, side by side.

I believe that in the team I work in, maybe 2/3 are on Office 2003 and the other 1/3 are on Office 2007.  Our customers, being that we deal with very large companies, are overwhelmingly all still on Office 2003.  (Personally, I'd rather send a PDF to a customer than a DOC, but that's not a decision I can make company-wide.)

I have the converter pack installed, which makes my Office 2003 installation compatible with Office 2007 documents (though it does prompt me and say that some features may be lost in translation).  I can't assume that everyone does, however, so OOXML files inconvenience anyone who gets sent these documents that does not have the converter installed.  The argument could also be made that PDF files inconvenience people without a PDF reader: everyone just downloads one, so what?

By way of opinions placed in the comments, should I be encouraging colleagues who send me documents in Office 2007 format, to enable saving by default in Office 2003 format?


2 Responses to “A more pragmatic, but less common, question about Office Open XML”

  1. What do the new formats give you that the old ones don't?

    Although this is about OOXML this is also -- as you say -- a more general issue of compatibility vs. features that would (of course) also apply to PDF 1.4 vs PDF 1.7 vs PDF with PDF Forms. As a general rule I think it's preferable to use the older version of a format unless there's a compelling need for any new features.

    I was involved in the OOXML thing and I think it's better to stick to the older .doc formats (more versions of Microsoft Office understand them, and they have had more reverse engineering work done by unless you need some features from ECMA-376 1st edition (2006). This of course means that you'd decide this on a document-by-document basis depending on the features, rather than by making a rule for all.

    I'd consider ODF 1.2 draft 7, and ECMA-376 2nd edition (2008) as incompatible with the majority of software, so even if there was a new feature I wouldn't use these formats yet.

  2. Craig says:

    In my "not really caring about the format" mode, I don't think that the new format gives anything that the old one doesn't; I assume there are features of Office 2007 that require using the new format, but I doubt that many of the documents people use day-to-day require all the features of Office 4.3, let alone 2007!

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