Monday, February 25, 2008

Microsoft, you're the best!

So I received a document over the weekend that had been created with Microsoft Word. "What a boring blog post," you must be thinking, but wait, I'm not finished. This particular document was created with Microsoft Office Word 2007. "This isn't helping!" you exclaim.

Would it improve the situation if I told you the file extension was ".docm" and my version of Microsoft Office Word 2003 was unable to open it?

I believe you stand corrected.

Before I could open this Microsoft application-created document with my Microsoft application I actually had to download a Compatibility Pack. A 27.5 MB compatibility pack, in fact. Apparently this pack allows pre-2007 versions of Office applications to work with Microsoft's new Open XML (Wikipedia's Open XML entry) formats.

This was a time-consuming annoyance when all I wanted was to read some text. I realize a ".docm" extension means the document is macro-enabled, but just a plain Office Word 2007 document with its ".docx" extension would require the same update, and there was nothing extraordinary about the document I was trying to open.

I suppose if this is the beginning of a Microsoft policy of greater interoperability going forward that is a good thing. However, going forward by alienating all that has come before is rarely the best way to proceed. After being forced to use Internet Explorer to use Microsoft Update and confirm that I had all the latest updates (recommended before proceeding -- yes, I RTFM), it took only about five minutes to download, unpack and install this compatibility pack. The best part about the installation was that Word was open the whole time and I didn't have to close down or restart it for the pack to work.

But what about the millions of Office users worldwide? Is this going to encourage current users to upgrade? What if someone doesn't have a broadband Internet connection? What about those in developing countries to whom Microsoft has practically given away its Office suite (2007) and other software products? Is this "free milk" with a past-due expiration date?

In short, thanks, Microsoft. Way to implement interoperability.

1 comment:

Xymyl said...

I like it! It's backward compatibility by retro-forward compatibility. That way the work is spread out between everybody equally, not just those who want to upgrade.

It's what Karl Marx would do. In fact, I seem to remember a story about the first release of the communist manifesto being plagued with compatibility issues. When Marx finally shifted all of his philosophies to an open-source platform it was still the proletariat (those who had to pay $19.95+ per month for lower bandwidth connections) that had to do all the upgrading.