First encounter with Office 2007 document compatibility

I’ve was living the Vista/Office 2007 life while out of the office last week, still on the last public betas though the RTM Office is downloading as I type.

I created several Word documents while out and about, and when I got back I copied them to a desktop PC for further editing. I noticed that they were .docx – proving that Office 2007 really does default to the new XML file format. I decided to try opening them in Word 2003, which is what I run on the desktop.

Word announced that the document was created by a newer version of itself. Would I like to download an update that would import it? I clicked OK, and downloaded a 27 MB file called FileFormatConverters.exe. At this point I was on my own. I figured that I should close Word and then run the file. It seemed to be installing, then said I needed administrator rights and quit.

This illustrates why Vista’s approach offers a better user experience. In Vista, you can run with a user account that has local admin rights, but runs with standard user privileges. An executable that requires admin rights can request elevation, so that instead of appearing to run and then giving up, it requests permission upfront.

This was XP though, so I right-clicked the file and tried again with Run As – Administrator. This time it worked, though there is a buglet. At the end of the install, it asked to restart now; I clicked Cancel as I wanted to defer the restart. A further dialog then said that the install had failed. Not true – the installation had succeeded and I was able to open the .docx in Word 2003.

When I did so, I got this dialog:

I find this perplexing. I understand about features that do not exist; but what does the comment about layout actually mean? Which features cannot be edited? A link to a document describing these limitations in detail would be valuable. It is tempting to Save As – Word document to return to what is familiar. However, in my simple document I couldn’t see any evidence of things not working.

It appears that you get this dialog whenever you open a .docx saved from Word 2007, but not once the document has been saved from Word 2003, even if you keep the .docx format.

When people start using Office 2007, they will be emailing .docx documents back and forth so this experience will be common. Has Microsoft done enough? My initial impression is that the technical work is there, but the user experience is not so good.

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