Office 2007: what do you lose by setting binary formats as default?

I wrote a piece for IT Week about document format defaults in Office 2007. The problem is that users with Office 2007 start emailing documents to others who do not have the suite. It is not too bad for other Microsoft Office users, who can download a compatibility pack, but for users of other operating systems it is problematic, though there are online services like zamzar.com.

Someone who read it pointed out that with the binary formats Office 2007 works in “compatibility mode”. Doesn’t this lose most of the benefits of upgrading to Office 2007?

My suggestion: try it, and let me know what features you miss.

As far as I can tell, the two biggest issues in Word are with the equation editor, and themes. The equation editor is disabled after you save a documents in .doc format, and themes are converted to styles. Personally I prefer styles to themes, and I rarely use the equation editor, so it is no loss to me. Further, it is not a problem doing Save As if you want to use some special feature like the equation editor. For sure, it beats getting that phone call when you are out of the office the next day, “That document you sent, it won’t open.”

What about Excel? Help says, “any new or enhanced Excel 2007 features are not available” in compatibility mode. I presume that would include the new larger sheet size. However, I’ve not bothered to convert any of my existing workbooks because I don’t actually notice any difference.

The ribbon, which is is the big new feature in Office 2007, works the same whatever format you use.

Still, it is a fair point. If you find it easy to do a Save As for documents that need to be shared with users not using Office 2007, then there is no problem using the new formats.

But how do you enforce that across an enterprise? Not easy; and of course Windows Explorer hides the extension by default. Documents in the old format are described as:

Microsoft Office Word 97-2003 Document

instead of

Microsoft Office Word Document

though unless you have a wide column size you might well see them both as “Microsoft Offi”, thanks to a particularly user-hostile naming convention.

However, you can set the default save format across an enterprise, with group policy. To my mind, that’s better than sending out stuff that is unreadable.

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2 comments to Office 2007: what do you lose by setting binary formats as default?

  • I’d say the biggest difference in Excel 2007 is the conditional formatting. I use that TREMENDOUSLY OFTEN and was a major reason for going to excel 2007 because I can simply cut through the crap a lot quicker in my data. Check out the Mr Excel podcast for more Excel 2007-specific things.

    I’m IT Director for our company (~500 employees) and we have not officially supported 2007 yet. Employees who need the new functionality, such as > 64,000 rows (I think that’s the limit) are welcome to install given the caveats of A) our group won’t support them 100% and B) they are to be aware of the document format incompatibility with their fellow employees. Simply put, we don’t yet have the hardware deployed that can make Office 2007 (or Vista for that matter) a reality.

    I did learn recently about Office 2007′s XML document format and how the file size is drastically smaller. Document size wasn’t a big thing for me, but the added benefit of having XML format instead of binary was document recovery – I haven’t had many corrupted files in the past, but the few that were happened to be EXTREMELY important to me. Knowing that the content and metadata from the document is in plain text and 100% recoverable is a great relief – I can always re-do formatting and tables and stuff, but it’s the content that is valuable.

  • tim

    @whall interesting point about conditional formatting. It does work with the old format but there are caveats and the results may be different.

    OOXML File sizes are smaller, but they are zipped, so it is not quite as good as having plain text. You have to recover the zip if there is corruption.

    Tim