Tag Archives: office 2010

SharePoint Workspace 2010 – what a mess

For some time I have been meaning to post about SharePoint Workspace 2010. This application was introduced as part of Office 2010, though it is partly based on the older Office Groove software. Its purpose is to allow users to work with documents stored on SharePoint servers even when they are offline. I regard this as an important feature, and since I now store many of my own documents in SharePoint I was quick to install and use it.

I hate it. I am surprised that the Office team released software that is so unreliable, bewildering, overcomplicated, and hard to use even when working as designed. Given that it came out at a time when Microsoft had supposedly got the message about design and user experience, it really is surprisingly bad.

What is wrong with it? All I want to do is to work offline with my SharePoint documents; but the first annoyance is that SharePoint Workspace is designed to accommodate multiple different SharePoint servers. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it means that every time I want to get to my Workspace, I have to go through two steps. First, open the SharePoint workspace Launchbar:


Then double-click Home to open my actual Workspace:


The workspace is Explorer-like, but it is not Explorer. I think this is a mistake. Microsoft should have made this just another folder in Explorer, that works online and offline, and synchronises when connected. Like Dropbox, in fact. But it did not.

Still, I could cope with this if it worked well. Unfortunately it does not. Here was the first unpleasant message I encountered:


“You are storing 196 more documents than SharePoint Workspace supports,” it says. The phrasing is odd. If SharePoint Workspace does not support that number of documents, how come I am storing them?

If you are lucky enough to find it, this document attempts to explain. Here are the limits:

SharePoint Workspace cannot synchronize any files that are larger than 1 GB. Additionally, SharePoint Workspace will stop synchronizing any shared folder that exceeds the following limits: More than 5000 files or a set of files that exceeds 2 GB in total size.

I am way below this though. Why do I get the warning? Maybe because:

For optimal performance in a shared folder, keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid adding large files (>50 MB) to a shared folder.
  • Avoid adding large numbers of files (>100 files) at once.
  • Avoid storing large numbers of files (>500 files) in a shared folder.

Perhaps then I am within the absolute limit, but above the recommended limit for “optimal performance”. However, this article tells a slightly different story:

You can store approximately 500 documents in SharePoint Workspace. If you exceed this limit, a warning message appears on the Launchbar whenever you start up SharePoint Workspace to remind you that you need to free up space. You can ignore this message and continue to do all SharePoint Workspace activities, though with degraded performance.

If you attempt to create a new SharePoint workspace that would exceed 1800 documents across your SharePoint workspaces, a warning message appears to inform you that only document properties will be downloaded to the workspace.

What then are the limits? 5000 per folder? 500 per folder? 1800 overall? or 500 overall?

If it is 500 overall, that is rather small. What is worse though, SharePoint Workspace lacks any common-sense way to control synchronisation. For example, I would like a global setting that said: Synchronize all documents that changed in the last 90 days, plus others I individually specify.

No such luck. You can connect or disconnect entire libraries, otherwise you can manually set a document to download headers only by right-clicking and choosing Discard local copy. That’s it.

I am not done yet. I get other puzzling errors and messages from this thing, which rarely works as expected. In particular, it is rather bad at its primary function, synching offline changes. To demonstrate this, I decided to record exactly what happens when trying something simple like creating a SharePoint document when offline.

I open SharePoint Workspace when offline. I right-click in a folder and choose New Document. Word opens, which is good. I type my document and hit save. Word opens the Save dialog at the default My Documents location – not where I want it.

However, I can click at top left of the Save dialog where it says Workspaces.


Then I have to navigate back down to the location where I want it and click Save. Eventually I get this notification:


Great, I have managed to create and save a SharePoint document when offline. Except, if I look now in the location to which I have just saved it, it is empty:


However, it does appears in Word’s recent document list and I can open it from there.

Perhaps it will sort itself out when I reconnect. I reconnect. Oh no, here comes an unwelcome notification:


On investigation, I now find my document in another thing called Microsoft Office Upload Center, with a warning mark:


I click Upload all. Nothing happens. I drop down Actions and select Upload. Nothing happens. No error, no upload.

Oddly, if I open SharePoint Workspace, it says it is synchronized. I guess it means synchronized but with errors.

So what is the problem here? Sometimes the problem is that Word is still running. Even if the document is not actually open in Word, some file lock is  not released and it prevents the upload, though you do not get an error message that tells you what is wrong. Not this time though. I could not get it to sync.

I rebooted. Still no joy. I re-opened the document in Word by double-clicking and hit save. Something fixed itself.


I am so conditioned to this kind of rigmarole that I rarely try this now. I store the document locally and copy it to SharePoint when it is online, bypassing the Workspace.

Why do I bother with it? A couple of reasons. One is that the ability to get at your SharePoint documents offline, and to have a kind of additional backup, really is a huge feature, and I prefer one that works badly than to be completely without it. Second, I like to live with these things so that I can assess how well they work. Otherwise we are at the mercy of the press releases that state the existence of the feature but do not describe its limitations.

I hope Microsoft comes up with something better for Office 2012 (or vNext).

Microsoft Open XML embarrassment: spaces go missing between words

Microsoft’s controversial Office Open XML format, now officially called just Open XML*, has an embarrassing bug in its Office 2010 and/or Office 2007 implementation, as reported by  Dennis O’Reilly on Cnet.

In a nutshell: if you save a document from Word 2010 using the default .docx format, and send it to a user with Word 2007 but who has a different default printer driver, then a few seemingly random spaces may get dropped from between words or sentences when it is opened on the other machine. When saved in Word 2007, the spaces remain missing if the document is re-opened in Word 2010.

The consequences for one user were severe:

I had this same problem the other day, when I finished writing an in-class essay on my laptop (Win7 64-bit, Office 2010 32-bit), transferred it to a classroom computer (WinXP, Office 2007), and printed the document. I was out of time, so I had to turn in the paper without reading over the printed copy. I had triple-checked the essay on my laptop, so it had no spelling or formatting errors, right?

I got my essay back, and I had 20% of my grade taken away due to frequent spacing errors between words. Shocked, I double-checked my original copy of the document, and there were no spacing errors. Even more perplexing, I opened the file on a classroom computer, and, sure enough, I found many spacing errors between words and sentences.

Now, as I understand it a large part of the point of Open XML is to preserve fidelity in archived documents so I consider this a significant bug.

I’ll speculate a bit on why this problem occurs. It is a bug; but it also reflects the fact that Word is a word processor, not a professional text layout tool. Word processor documents may change formatting slightly according to the printer driver installed; and I’d guess that the missing spaces occur when the line breaks are altered by a different printer driver.

This is why a workaround is for both users to set Adobe PDF as the default printer driver, making them consistent. Another workaround is to revert to the old binary .doc format.

It is still quite wrong for spaces to disappear in this manner, though the bug could be in Word 2007 rather than in Word 2010.

I also notice that nobody from Microsoft has officially commented on the problem. Disclosure is important.

Update: Microsoft has now commented and says:

This is an issue related to how Word 2007 opened files. In other words, the issue is not with Word 2010, it was a defect in the file / open code of Word 2007 that caused the problem. Reports that Open XML caused this issue are not accurate. We discovered and fixed the issue in Word 2007 as part of a release that first appeared on September 25, 2008, well before shipping Office 2010.

The suggested remedy is to apply Office 2007 Service Pack 2.

If you have already applied this and still get the problem, please inform Microsoft – and I would be interested too.

*Note: Although Microsoft sites like this one say Open XML I’m told that the official name is still Office Open XML or possibly something like ISO/IEC 29500:2008 Office Open XML File Formats.

Server and Tools shine in Microsoft results – so why is Bob Muglia leaving?

Microsoft released quarterly results yesterday:

Quarter ending December 31 2010 vs quarter ending December 31 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5054 -2139 3251 -2166
Server and Tools 4390 412 1776 312
Online 691 112 -543 -80
Business (Office) 5126 612 3965 1018
Entertainment and devices 3698 1317 679 314

Microsoft highlighted strong sales for Xbox (including Kinect) as well as for Office 2010, which it said in the press release is the “fastest-selling consumer version of Office in history.”

Why is Office 2010 selling better than Office 2007? My hunch is that this is a Windows 7 side-effect. New Windows, new Office. I do think Office 2010 is a slightly better product than Office 2007, but not dramatically so. SharePoint Workspace 2010, about which I mean to post when I have a moment, is a big disappointment, with a perplexing user interface and limited functionality.

Windows 7 revenue is smaller than that of a year ago, but then again the product was released in October 2009 so this is more a reflection of its successful launch than anything else.

What impressed me most is the strong performance of Server and Tools, at a time when consolidation through virtualisation and growing interest in cloud computing might be reducing demand. Even virtual machines require an OS licence though, so maybe HP should worry more than Microsoft about that aspect.

I still think they are good figures, and make Server and Tools VP Bob Muglia’s announced departure even more puzzling. Just what was his disagreement with CEO Steve Ballmer?

Server and Tools revenue includes Windows Azure, but it sounds like Microsoft’s cloud is not generating much revenue yet. Here is what CFO Peter Klein said:

Moving on to Server and Tools. For Q3 and the full year, we expect non-annuity revenue, approximately 30% of the total, to generally track with the hardware market. Multi-year licensing revenue which is about 50% of the total, and enterprise services, the remaining 20%, should grow high-single digits for the third quarter and low double-digits for the full fiscal year.

This suggests that 80% of the revenue is from licensing and that 20% is “enterprise services” – which as I understand it is the consulting and enterprise support division at Microsoft. So where is Azure?

Online services, which is Bing and advertising, announced another set of dismal results. Another part of Microsoft’s cloud, Exchange and SharePoint online, is lost somewhere in the Business segment. Overall it is hard to judge how well the company’s cloud computing products are performing, but I think it is safe to assume that revenue is tiny relative to the old Windows and Office stalwarts.

Windows Phone 7 gets a mention:

While we are encouraged by the early progress, we realize we still have a lot of work ahead of us, and we remain focused and committed to the long-term success of Windows Phone 7.

It looks like revenue here is tiny as well; and like most corporate assertions of commitment, this is a reflection of the doubts around Microsoft’s mobile strategy overall: how much of it is Windows Phone 7, and how much a future version of full Windows running on ARM system-on-a-chip packages?

Still, these are good figures overall and show how commentators such as myself tend to neglect the continuing demand for Windows and Office when obsessing about a future which we think will be dominated by cloud plus mobile.

The cloud permeates Microsoft’s business more than we may realise

I’m in the habit of summarising Microsoft’s financial results in a simple table. Here is how it looks for the recently announced figures.

Quarter ending September 30 2010 vs quarter ending September 30 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4785 1905 3323 1840
Server and Tools 3959 409 1630 393
Online 527 40 -560 -83
Business (Office) 5126 612 3388 561
Entertainment and devices 1795 383 382 122

The Windows figures are excellent, mostly reflecting Microsoft’s success in delivering a successor to Windows XP that is good enough to drive upgrades.

I’m more impressed though with the Server and tools performance – which I assume is mostly Server – though noting that it now includes Windows Azure. Microsoft does not break out the Azure figures but said that it grew 40% over the previous quarter; not especially impressive given that Azure has not been out long and will have grown from a small base.

The Office figures, also good, include Sharepoint, Exchange and BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which is to become Office 365. Microsoft reported “tripled number of business customers using cloud services.”

Online, essentially the search and advertising business, is poor as ever, though Microsoft says Bing gained market share in the USA. Entertainment and devices grew despite poor sales for Windows Mobile, caught between the decline of the old mobile OS and the launch of Windows Phone 7.

What can we conclude about the health of the company? The simple fact is that despite Apple, Google, and mis-steps in Windows, Mobile, and online, Microsoft is still a powerful money-making machine and performing well in many parts of its business. The company actually does a poor job of communicating its achievements in my experience. For example, the rather dull keynote from TechEd Berlin yesterday.

Of course Microsoft’s business is still largely dependent on an on-premise software model that many of us feel will inevitably decline. Still, my other reflection on these figures is that the cloud permeates Microsoft’s business more than a casual glance reveals.

The “Online” business is mainly Bing and advertising as far as I can tell; and despite CTO Ray Ozzie telling us back in 2005 of the importance of services financed by advertising, that business revolution has not come to pass as he imagined. I assume that Windows Live is no more successful than Online.

What is more important is that we are seeing Server and tools growing Azure and cloud-hosted virtualisation business, and Office growing hosted Exchange and SharePoint business. I’d expect both businesses to continue to grow, as Microsoft finally starts helping both itself and its customers with cloud migration.

That said, since the hosted business is not separated from the on-premise business, and since some is in the hands of partners, it is hard to judge its real significance.

Office 2010: the SharePoint factor

Microsoft Office 2010 launches today. I’ve been using the product since for some months, in beta and final form, and written a fair amount on the subject. Is it worth upgrading? There’s no simple answer. If you spend a lot of time working in Office, then even a small tweak might be worth the upgrade cost. On the other hand, it is a struggle to identify must-have features in the desktop product, which is hardly surprising given how many revisions it has already been through.

That said, I’ve also installed SharePoint 2010, and it’s apparent to me that Office 2010 plus SharePoint 2010 is more interesting than Office 2010 on its own. SharePoint 2010 enables three things that were not done, or done less well, in previous releases:

1. Office Web Apps. Although the Web Apps have frustrations and limitations, the ability to navigate to SharePoint with a web browser, and to view and generally edit documents without opening desktop Office, is a big deal. I’ve found it handy on a netbook, for example, and even on machines where Office is installed. It is also useful on iPhones or other smartphones. Another aspect is the link with Windows Live. Now you can upload a document somewhere others can view it without needing to download it or install a  viewer.

2. Collaboration. Via SharePoint 2010, you get simultaneous co-authoring in Word and PowerPoint on the desktop, and in Excel and OneNote on Office Web Apps. The co-authoring story is a bit mixed at the moment – for example, desktop Excel does not support co-authoring – but this is an interesting feature for some scenarios.

3. Offline SharePoint. SharePoint Workspace lets you work with documents offline and have them automatically synchronize later. There’s a few things I don’t like about SharePoint Workspace. It is not as seamless as I would like, opening in its own window rather than showing up as an Explorer folder, and it presented me with an error saying I had too many documents:


The Sync Status then reports an “unknown error” despite having just displayed a message saying what the error is. According to online help, you can store “approximately 500 documents”, though if you exceed it then it still works but with “degraded performance”, up until another limit of 1800 documents. I’d like a way to specify “only those documents modified in the last three months”, or something like that, but cannot see anyway to do this automatically. What you can do is a thing called “Discard local copy” which leaves only the header in the offline store, but you have to apply this manually. Not perfect then, but still useful.

The simple conclusion then is that to make sense of Office 2010 you need SharePoint 2010. The snag is that SharePoint is not something to roll out casually. Although it has a huge number of interesting features, it is also complex and easy to break.

I noticed this post from SharePoint consultants Cloud2, which specialises in NHS (the UK National Heath Service) deployments. I guess you would expect a consultant to emphasise that installing SharePoint is something which requires expert help; but even taking that into account there are some interesting comments here. A sample few:

Develop a careful and well considered Information Architecture – This is probably the single hardest thing to do in a SharePoint project and is ABSOLUTLELY NOT a technical task … If you spend less than a week on this then you either are receiving great advice or are likely to get into trouble down the line

Note that changing the User Interface in SharePoint is VERY HARD and any decent SharePoint redesign is going to cost £10k+ (we know of companies that have spent more than £50k). So stick to a few colour changes and images or invest in a predefined theme if you must.

Accept that SharePoint is huge – it’s not (just) a document management or a team collaboration technology and it can address a very wide range of needs in a business. This means that no one person really understands it all and that no one can be expected to quickly get up to speed on it in order to make informed capability, specification and project decisions.

Don’t accept the defaults when building the servers. E.g. SQL Server defaults will result in autosizing sizing and growth settings that will make the server work flat out just to keep up with resizing

Don’t Believe everything Microsoft (and their partners, even us) say. It might be legally true, but no one knows it all and just because a thing can be done with SharePoint doesn’t mean it should (for example, websites usually should NOT be built in SharePoint, in our opinion).

My point here is not that these remarks are correct or incorrect, but that deploying SharePoint is not something you can expect to do overnight just because it works great with the latest Office. Here’s another quote from the same guys:

It has been our observation that many, and perhaps most, SharePoint projects in the English (as distinct from Scottish, Welsh etc) National Health Service fail to a greater extent than they succeed.

which is a sobering remark.

It’s also worth noting that going for hosted SharePoint will solve some but not all of these problems. On the other hand, part of Microsoft’s appeal these days is that you can do everything on premise – that may seem more of a disadvantage, but it is an attraction for organisations that don’t yet buy the cloud hype.

Linux users will need a Microsoft Office license to use Office Web Apps

I spoke to Jeff Teper, Microsoft’s Corporate VP of the Office Business Platform, who runs the SharePoint engineering group. I asked him to clarify something has puzzled me: the licensing for Office Web Apps. From a technical point of view, Office Web Apps is an add-on for SharePoint; it does not require the paid-for SharePoint Server (success to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server), but neither is it free – you may only install it if you have a volume license for Microsoft Office.

That much I understood; but what are the implications for businesses who have a volume license that does not cover everyone in the organisation? For example, I might purchase 100 volume licenses for the people who need to run Microsoft Office, but have another 50 who have OEM Office, or Open Office, or who don’t need to run Office at all. Some may be running Linux, on which Microsoft Office is not supported at all – though some have it working using WINE. Another scenario is where you have a SharePoint installation published to partners over the Internet. Is it OK to let them use Office Web Apps?

“The simple answer is that you do need a volume license for each user”, said Teper, though he added, “Our volume licensing is tailored to each customer, we will do specific things for each customer’s need. But the blanket statement is that its available for volume license customers per user.”

So would a Linux user need a license for Microsoft Office in order to access Office Web Apps, even though they couldn’t run the desktop version?

“Yes, that’s our default licensing.”

I also asked about how the licensing works. Is it enforced technically, so that the server refuses connections if they exceed the licensed number, or is it on a trust basis? Teper answered somewhat mysteriously:

“We provide volume license customers the tools to track that.”

My guess is that it is essentially done on trust (though perhaps subject to audit) but I couldn’t get Teper to confirm that.

Still, it seems to me that this licensing requirement will inhibit organisations from taking full advantage of what the Office Web Apps can do. The advantage of a web-based solution is that anyone can access it, both within an organisation, and beyond it if you choose to publish it on the Internet. I doubt there will be much enthusiasm for buying Office licenses for Linux users, though maybe the kind of organisation that has a full Microsoft-platform deployment does not have internal Linux users anyway.

In mitigation, it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft is also making Office Web Apps available for free, through Live Skydrive and Office Live Workspace. If you use those services, anyone with a Live ID can be given access to your Office Web App documents.

Six abandoned features from the history of Microsoft Office

With Office 2010 about to launch, it’s fun to look back at earlier Office launches, especially some of the features which were hyped as breakthroughs at the time, only to be dropped or hidden a couple of versions later. Here are six which come to mind.

Smart Tags

Smart Tags were the big new feature of Office XP. You would be typing a document, and as you typed it would pull in data or run wizards by recognising the content of your document. Smart Tags were originally envisaged for Internet Explorer as well, but controversial since they overlay third-party content with Microsoft’s interpretation of what it might be about; that feature was dropped. Smart Tags just about persisted into Office 2003, after which Microsoft stopped talking about them.


Curiously, if you hit Display Map in Word 2003, then after a few Internet Explorer convulsions a map of New York appears with the location marked (I have no idea if it exists, I just picked the numbers 12345). In Word 2010, the feature is hidden, but if I right-click the address I do get Display Map under Additional Actions:


However, if I select Display Map I just get a map of the UK with a search box. It appears that this feature in Word 2010 did not receive the most rigorous attention or testing.

The Tip Wizard

Introduced in Office 95 (along with the Answer Wizard), the Tip Wizard would observe your actions and come up with a tip if it thought you might need help. It was actually a better approach than the Office Assistant which was to follow, being less intrusive and occasionally even helpful.


The Answer Wizard was less impressive – billed as some sort of intelligent question parser, but in practice little different than simply searching help for keywords.

The Office Assistant

The unforgettable Clippy, introduced in Office 97, whose opening remarks were usually “It looks like you’re writing a letter.” Clippy had a wonderful range of animations though; almost as if more effort went into the animations than the artificial intelligence. You did not have to have Clippy; there were a variety of other characters available. The Office Assistant also hijacked certain dialogs, such as the option to save when closing a document.


So what was actually wrong with Clippy? Part of it was the faulty AI, but more seriously the application overstepped the mark between what is helpful and what is annoying and intrusive. Someone even wrote a paper on the subject.

Although everyone loves to poke fun at Clippy, Office 97 (in which he first appeared) was a huge success for Microsoft – accordng to the company, it was the fastest selling application in PC history at the time. Clippy did not last though; by the time of Office XP the Assistant was off by default, and in Office 2007 it is not available at all.

Adaptive Menus

Here is an idea which really seems to make sense. The problem: too many menu options that few people use, cluttering up the user interface. The solution: menus which only present the features you actually use. The other options are hidden by default, but can be revealed by clicking a double-arrow. If you use a hidden menu a few times, it starts to appear by default; if you do not use an option for a while, it hides itself. The feature arrived in Office 2000.


The problem with adaptive menus was the wrong things got hidden. I always found it annoying when Office hid the Print menu, even though I rarely print documents (which is why it got hidden).

They also fail the consistency test. Humans need landmarks in order to navigate, and making them shift and change over time is disorientating.

Outlook Net Folders

Once you have a network, then among the most obvious things to do is to start sharing basic things like contact lists. Microsoft has a feature in Exchange called Public Folders which does this nicely. But what about little workgroups that do not have Exchange? Outlook 98 introduced Net Folders, aimed at exactly this need. You could configure a Net Folder, in which case hidden emails were sent round the network to synchronize everyone’s changes.

Unfortunately nobody in Microsoft used Net Folders. Why would they, when they had Exchange? In consequence, the Net Folders feature never worked correctly; they would inevitably become corrupt or non-functional after a while. After Outlook 2000, the feature disappeared.

Access Data Projects

Microsoft Access has a decent user interface for managing data, but the underlying JET database engine is a bit hopeless over a network. That was the thinking behind Access Data Projects, introduced in Access 2000. Keep the friendly Access UI, but have the underlying database engine be SQL Server.

At the time Microsoft hinted that JET was nearing end of life, and that the local SQL Server engine might take over. It was a hard sell though. Users understood the MDB: a file that has all their data in it. You could copy it to a USB drive and take it home, or email it to someone, and it would happily open in another Access installation (version differences aside). SQL Server is just more fiddly. In any case, you can connect to SQL Server from an MDB or Accdb, so why bother? After Access XP, Microsoft moved away from the idea of Access Data Projects.

Actually, Access Data Projects are still there even in Access 2010, just hidden. Go to the backstage view, select New, and type a filename with an .adp extension. Then click Create. Access will ask if you want a new or existing SQL Server database.


And more…

I could go on. The Office Binder – a great feature of Office 95-2000 that rolls documents of multiple types into one file. Data Access Pages – a somewhat misconceived feature of Access 2000 for binding HTML to database fields. What’s your favourite abandoned feature?

Word 2010 ugly font in .doc format

I’ve come across what looks like a bug in Word 2010. I generally do not send documents in the new Word .docx format, because it can cause problems for the recipient; I prefer to use the old .doc format. I’m also averse to the multi-colour default style set in Word, and generally change it to the Word 2003 style set.

So I typed a document in that style set, and prepared it for sending by using Save As to convert it from .docx to .doc.

Here’s the before:


and after:


The font spacing has gone awry in the heading. I don’t know to what extent this is specific to a particular font or style; but I have verified the behaviour on a second machine and confirmed that the error exists in the printed output as well as on screen.

It’s unfortunate because .doc support remains a critical feature of Office – if this is a common problem, it would be enough to send me back to Word 2007.

I would love to know what is causing it. I realise there are cases where a .docx cannot be quite the same when saved as .doc, because of different features, but I have never before come across this kind of corruption. Excellent compatibility between .doc and .docx is meant to be a key reason to use Microsoft’s Open XML.

Incidentally, it is not unique to documents which start life as .docx. I get the same problem if I set the default format to .doc and type the same content.


I got this one wrong. It is not a bug in Word 2010; it is the same in Word 2007, and I’m surprised I have not noticed it before. The likely reason is that it only occurs at 16pt and higher, which is when kerning is enabled by default. The fix is to disable kerning in that style (Heading 1):


Curiously, the ugly font does look better in Word 2003 on Windows XP; I don’t have Office 2003 installed on Windows 7 so cannot test that combination.

Of course this does still illustrate that saving a .docx as .doc can spoil the formatting.

Office Web Apps better then Open Office for .docx on Linux

I’ve been reviewing Office and SharePoint 2010, and trying out Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, so I thought I would put the two together with a small experiment.

I borrowed a document from Microsoft’s press materials for Office 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, they are in .doc format, not the Open XML .docx that was introduced in Office 2007. That didn’t suit my purposes, so I converted it to .docx using Save As in Office 2010.


Then I stuck it on SharePoint 2010.

Next, I downloaded it to Ubuntu and opened it in Open Office. It was not a complete disaster, but the formatting was badly messed up.

Finally, still in Ubuntu, I navigated to SharePoint and viewed the same document there. It looked fine.

Even better, I was able to click Edit in Browser, make changes, and save. The appearance is not quite WYSIWYG in edit mode, but is the same as in IE on Windows.

The exercise illustrates two points. One is that Open Office is not a good choice for working with Open XML – incidentally, the document looked fine when opened in the old binary .doc format. The other is that SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps will have real value on mixed networks suffering from document compatibility issues with Office and its newer formats.

Microsoft – make up your mind about Moonlight

I’ve been trying out Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, as provided for the release version of SharePoint 2010. The cross platform story is uneven, whether across Mac/Windows/Linux, or across different browsers, or even across different versions of Windows and Office. So far it does mostly work though, even if there are problems with certain tasks like printing or opening an online document in a desktop application.

The biggest problem I’ve had is on Linux. Supposedly Firefox 3.5 on Linux is supported. I ran up Ubuntu and Firefox 3.5, and went to look at a document in Word Web App. When I selected the document, Firefox quit. Every time.

After checking that Firefox was up-to-date it occurred to me that the problem might be related to Moonlight, the Linux implementation of Silverlight done by the Mono team. I disabled it. Suddenly, everything worked, even Edit in browser.

Moonlight is not just an open source project like the original Mono. It has a certain amount of official blessing from Microsoft. Here’s what VP Scott Guthrie said back in September 2007:

Over the last few months we’ve been working to enable Silverlight support on Linux, and today we are announcing a formal partnership with Novell to provide a great Silverlight implementation for Linux.  Microsoft will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100% compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called “Moonlight”.

Moonlight will run on all Linux distributions, and support FireFox, Konqueror, and Opera browsers.  Moonlight will support both the JavaScript programming model available in Silverlight 1.0, as well as the full .NET programming model we will enable in Silverlight 1.1.

You would think therefore that Microsoft would test the Firefox/Linux/Moonlight combination with its shiny new Office Web Apps. Apparently not. Here’s what the user experience is like for Office Word App. I figured that the solution might be to upgrade Moonlight to the latest version, so I did, installing what is now called Novell Moonlight 2.2. I went back to Word Web App. Firefox no longer crashes, but I now get a blank area where the Word document should be shown, and an error if I resize the browser window:

Now let’s see what happens if I disable Moonlight:

Everything is fine – except now there is a banner inviting me to “Improve my experience” by installing Silverlight. If I follow the link I eventually get back to the same Moonlight install that I have just enabled, which would actually break rather than improve Word Web App.

It is obvious that if users have to disable Moonlight to work with Office Web Apps, this will not help Moonlight adoption on Linux.

Office Web Apps are new and I’d hope this is something that Microsoft, Novell and the Mono team can soon fix between them. One reason for highlighting it now is the hope that something could be done before the full roll-out of Office and SharePoint 2010 on May 12th.

The real point though is what this says about the extent to which Microsoft cares about Moonlight and Linux users, and how much or little communication takes place between Microsoft and Novell. Silverlight isn’t required for Office Web Apps – as you can see from the above – but it is used to good effect where available, and this Office release is therefore an important release for Silverlight as well.

Microsoft should make up its mind. Is Novell really a trusted partner for Silverlight on Linux? Or a third-party product that has to take its chances?