• MS Office Service Pack 3 Causes More Compatibility Problems

    Microsoft…you’re kidding right? Now that Service Pack 3 for MS Office 2003 has been released more and more users are being confronted with a new error message when trying to open or save files in older formats.

    • When you try to open a file, the file does not open, and you receive one of the following error messages:

    You are attempting to open a file that is blocked by your registry policy setting.

    • When you try to save a file, the file is not saved, and you receive the following error message:

    You are attempting to save a file that is blocked by your registry policy setting.

    So what’s happening here? Well, without your permission SP3 (and this is built in to Office 2007) is modifying your group policy settings to prevent you from saving and/or opening very old versions of Microsoft Office on your machine. If that’s not bad enough, there is a whole list of file formats from competing vendors that you will no longer be able to save to or open via Microsoft Office. So for example, let’s say you want to save an Excel spreadsheet in .wks format so you can import it into a Lotus Notes database. No longer allowed without changing your registry settings. Or let’s say you want to save a Word document in an older Word or Mac version – again, no dice. Microsoft says the file blocking feature was implemented because of security holes in those older product formats, but at usual they seem to be “protecting” us from working with competitors products (read IBM), or just plain forcing upgrades on older users with perfectly good software.

    The problem is especially troublesome in Excel where users routinely manipulate tables and data created in other applications, or import existing excel data into legacy applications.The file blocking is implemented by way of registry changes reflecting group policy changes for your user account. The new registry settings also give administrators (or hackers) the ability to restrict even more files, including the native Office formats themselves. If you want to see the full list of files that are blocked by default click here. If you’re tired and just want to go back to the good old days of freedom of choice read on.

    In each of it’s relevant knowledge base articles Microsoft provides a work-around that requires you to manipulate some fairly obscure registry settings. But if you’re like most users you’ll want the new blocks to be removed completely. So without fanfare Microsoft has also released 4 registry patches (one for each Office application and one for Corel) that you can install automatically to remove all the blocks.

    Just download each of these, double-click them to update your registry and you’re back where you were yesterday (and should have been today).

  • Microsoft Office Not Compatible with….Microsoft Office?

    If you haven’t run into this one before, you soon will. Users of earlier versions of MS Office who have not upgraded to Office 2007 are no longer able to open Word, Excel and Power Point documents created in Office 2007. This is because Microsoft has purportedly capitulated to the Open Document Format Alliance which is supposed to allow seamless reading, editing and distribution of any business document across all applications. The Open Document Format Alliance has agreed that file extensions for office documents should be the same across all apps as follows:

    Microsoft however, has decided however to keep it’s file extensions as is, but to add an x to them to indicate that they are an Open XML document (e.g. powerpoint.ppt is now powerpoint.pptx). What this does is to make it difficult, if not impossible to read and use these documents with other applicaitons such as Open Office, Symphony, and yes…even prior versions of MS Office.

    As usual the downside for users represents a subtle upside for Microsoft. Larger businesses who have Microsoft Software Assurance contracts will undoubtedly upgrade their Office apps to Office 2007 since it is covered under their contracts. Smaller businesses and individuals who rely on those larger customers will soon (if they haven’t already) start receiving Office documents that they cannot open with earlier versions of Office – even Office 2003. Seriously, are we going to ask our customers to remember to save their Office 2007 documents in the old formats just for us? This leaves those of us who need to work with those customers two choices…..either adopt a new Office Suite and train users on how to open, read, and save Office 2007 documents OR pay to upgrade users to Office 2007 – to the tune of $200. per user.

    We all know that accountants won’t stop using Excel and salespeople won’t stop using PowerPoint don’t we? We also know that if forced to use an open format office suite such as Open Office, users will simply claim that Office documents won’t open or don’t “look right” and will request special dispensation to purchase Office 2007. Not only does Microsoft win in the short term with additional sales, they also win long-term by delaying the (hopefully) inevitable evolution to Open Document Format.

    So now you’re stuck. How do you read Office 2007 files with earlier versions of Office. Well Microsoft has responded in typically half-baked fashion by offering an Office Compatibility Pack – available for download on their website (after you prove of course for the umpteenth time that you are a legitimate Windows Genuine Advantage user). You can download the compatibility pack here.

    Once you’ve proven you’re not a crook and have downloaded the executable file, double-click on it to install. Now you’re done right? Wrong. You still can’t open that .docx format with Word. You have to right-click on the Office 2007 file, select “Open With” and then select “Microsoft XML Document Reader”. This will open the document in read-only mode. From there you can use File/Save As to save it back to .doc, .xls, or .ppt format.

    Do we need any more reason to switch to a true Open Office Document format application like the FREE OpenOffice.org?