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Office 2003 Service Pack Disables Older File Formats 555

Posted by Zonk
from the always-so-helpful dept.
time961 writes "In Service Pack 3 for Office 2003, Microsoft disabled support for many older file formats. If you have old Word, Excel, 1-2-3, Quattro, or Corel Draw documents, watch out! They did this because the old formats are 'less secure', which actually makes some sense, but only if you got the files from some untrustworthy source. Naturally, they did this by default, and then documented a mind-bogglingly complex workaround (KB 938810) rather than providing a user interface for adjusting it, or even a set of awkward 'Do you really want to do this?' dialog boxes to click through. And of course because these are, after all, old file formats ... many users will encounter the problem only months or years after the software change, while groping around in dusty and now-inaccessible archives."
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Office 2003 Service Pack Disables Older File Formats

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  • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:32AM (#21879622) Homepage
    many users will encounter the problem only months or years after the software change, while groping around in dusty and now-inaccessible archives.

    Is that how one interfaces with rarely-used document archives? via groping?
    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:15AM (#21879840)
      Is that how one interfaces with rarely-used document archives? via groping?

      Bender: If by "interface" you mean "have sex with" and if by "rarely-used document archive" you mean "your girlfriend", then yes, "groping" is the correct term. As follows:

      Hey baby, can I interface with your rarely-used document interface?
      Later, want to kill all humans?
    • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:10AM (#21880054)

      Is that how one interfaces with rarely-used document archives? via groping?

      That's assuming they date back to the Clinton admistration. In California this approach will be required for current documents.

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:55AM (#21880212) Homepage
      ...for demonstrating why we need ODF.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Marcion (876801)
        Was the Knowledge base article written by the same people who wrote the OOXML draft?

        What the heck does the following mean?

        > The following table contains the DWORD names and the corresponding file formats that are blocked by using the FileOpenBlock subkey:

        > FilesBeforeVersion All Word files that have an nFib value that is less than the minimum nFib value as set by an administrator
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Xiaran (836924)
          You know. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. Ive just gotten thru trying to figure out how to secure Server 2003 for some slightly out of the normal configuration and had to read thru a few extremely obfuscated KB articles... its like they are actively trying to make it difficult to do things properly.
    • by mrjb (547783) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @04:49AM (#21880420)
      > Is that how one interfaces with rarely-used document archives? via groping?
      Yes, didn't you know? You should have RTFM:

      GROPE

      NAME

                    grope, egrope, fgrope, rgrep - print lines matching a pattern
                    in rarely used document archives

      SYNOPSIS

                    grope (options) PATTERN (FILE...)

      DESCRIPTION

                    grope searches the named archives FILEs (or standard input if none are
                    named, or the file name - is given) for lines containing a match to the
                    given PATTERN. By default, grope prints the matching lines.

                    In addition, three variant programs egrope, fgrep and rgrep are avail-
                    able. egrep is the same as grope -E. fgrope is the same as
                    grope -F. rgrope is the same as grope -r.

      BUGS

                    Backreferences are very slow, and may require exponential time.
  • by compumike (454538) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:36AM (#21879638) Homepage
    If you read the knowledge base article, you'll see that the default allowed old-version goes back to before even Word 95. PowerPoint 95, but not 97, is blocked. It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

    However, I really have to question whether the enhanced security is worth it, since those old versions didn't allow too much of embedded scripting anyway. Are we just worried about buffer overflows, because those are still a symptom of their parser, not the format itself.

    The software nanny continues to keep us from hurting ourselves... gee, thanks. (Hmm, anyone smell a similar trend in government lately?)

    --
    Educational microcontroller kits for the digital generation. [nerdkits.com]
    • by LuckyLuke58 (207964) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:53AM (#21879732)
      Doubt it's really about security at all; I'm guessing it's probably more about 'nudging' the few people still using old versions of the software to upgrade: Those who currently exchange documents with users on newer versions will find suddenly they won't be able to send documents to anyone anymore without getting complaints that people can't open them. Deliberately making it too cumbersome and complex for most people to ever work around this, i.e. leaving it technically (but not really practically for almost everyone) an option, for now at least gives MS an excuse, while still taking a big step towards getting rid of support for those old formats entirely, which is not all that unreasonable I suppose for formats greater than 10 years old.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by deniable (76198)
        That already happened with Word '97. Big companies changed and everyone else had to follow. Microsoft caught a lot of heat and stopped making major format changes on every version. This patch blocks stuff from before '97, so I don't think there are too many people swapping documents around that will be affected. It will screw people who are digging out old copies of documents though.

        Given that they are trying to push new formats with 2007, I can see the upgrade treadmill being driven from there. docx, anyon
      • by Helldesk Hound (981604) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:26AM (#21879884) Homepage
        > Deliberately making it too cumbersome and complex for most people to ever
        > work around this, i.e. leaving it technically (but not really practically
        > for almost everyone) an option, for now at least gives MS an excuse, while
        > still taking a big step towards getting rid of support for those old formats
        > entirely, which is not all that unreasonable I suppose for formats greater
        > than 10 years old.

        Let's not forget - what is being supported is *software*, ie M$ Office, not a file format.

        The current iteration of Micro$oft Office should be capable of opening any and all files created by any prior release of M$ Office, and should be capable of doing so in a safe and secure manner.

        If the current iteration of Micro$oft Office is incapable of safely and securely parsing any file created by any prior iteration of M$ Office then surely something is very wrong with Microsoft, and with M$ Office!!
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Helldesk_Hound, your account appears to have been taken over by a 7 year old. Maybe if you get in touch with slashdot they'll reset your password so you can get it back?
        • Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @04:44AM (#21880402) Journal
          He's right... their excuse is a joke. It can't be that hard--especially considering the huge profit margin on Office--to figure out a way of opening these file formats securely. It's not even executable data, for pete's sake! And if they *are* talking about macros or something, well then just disable the macro part until you figure out a way to sandbox it.

          The richest tech company in the world is throwing its hands up in the air and saying that can't figure out how to make its most profitable (and presumably most actively developed) products render a human readable, non-executable data format safely--PLEASE. This is nothing more than a very clumsy (but brazen) attempt to make people upgrade. I'm surprised they have the balls to do it, what with their current OOXML circus.
          • Re:Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Helldesk Hound (981604) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @05:07AM (#21880482) Homepage
            > This is nothing more than a very clumsy (but brazen) attempt to
            > make people upgrade. I'm surprised they have the balls to do
            > it, what with their current OOXML circus.

            I'm not surprised at all. :o)

            It is what one expects from a company that does not respect the people who have used its software (and re-purchased it several times) over many years.

            Would Adobe even consider doing this with Photoshop? No.

            What we are seeing is nothing more than a "vendor lock-in" ploy.

            I'm almost certain that M$ will not fully support OOXML if it gets approved by the ISO. Lets be realistic - M$ Doesn't actually support it now!
            • Re:Mod parent up! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by totally bogus dude (1040246) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @06:00AM (#21880652)

              It is what one expects from a company that does not respect the people who have used its software (and re-purchased it several times) over many years.

              Sounds reasonable to me. I mean, do you respect stupid people, even if they give you their money?

            • by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @07:12AM (#21880868) Journal
              I just assumed that, since Office is their second most important product and OOXML is obviously a carefully constructed weapon to counter the looming threat of ODF and OSS in general, they'd have enough sense to act with some sense of... subtlety or something.

              For now, they may still be king but Microsoft's market share isn't the impenetrable fortress it was in the late 90s/early 00s. OS X, Linux (Ubuntu especially), Google, Firefox (and now ODF) have made a significant, measurable impact these last few years. it seemed like they were going to take the smart route and at least FEIGN an interest in open standards/open formats (kind of like Vista feigns having *nix-type security)... instead, they're now flailing around with the ole' triple-E gauntlet (Embrace/Extend/Extinguish), and this time... it's with their own proprietary standards!? Haven't they seen enough backlash to realize this is only going to hurt them in the long run? Is ANYONE at all looking beyond their next quarterly earnings report?

              I guess I simply overestimated the overall sanity and intelligence of those in charge. Cue the Ballmer-chair jokes... they're juvenile, but really, what else is there to say?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by bhtooefr (649901)
            Unless it's buffer overflows...

            But, the first macro viruses were on Word 6.0, which is allowed!
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by blincoln (592401)
            It's not even executable data, for pete's sake!

            A lot of older Office file formats (and MS file formats in general, at least in my experience) are basically partial memory dumps. So yes, I can imagine it would be pretty hard to even come close to guaranteeing that opening all of the decrepit old files stored in those formats would be safe.
        • by MMC Monster (602931) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @08:53AM (#21881252)
          Agree, but there is another point:

          A lot of individuals have pointed to MSOffice as a standard, stating that future versions will always be able to read the older formats. Now there is absolute proof that it isn't true.

          Another reason for an open format that is actively supported by multiple vendors.
      • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:04AM (#21880018) Journal
        It is unreasonable, and stupid to boot.

        Unreasonable:
        Most students, business and personal users don't wish to be unable to open their 10 year old document because it's no longer supported. Students want to be able to access old study notes, businesses want to get at statistics, company history and old documentation of systems or business practices, and the end user wants to be able to open that wedding speech they wrote 10 years ago, or that collection of jokes in an MS word doc.

        Stupid:
        Why do people buy Office instead of using something free? For the 3000 features? No, at least most don't. They buy Office for universal compatibility s that they can exchange documents with everyone. The moment users start complaining that they can't open the MS Office document with Office, but it's okay you can use a free alternative, people will start installing the free alternative. They're not forcing anyone to move up to a later maintained version, they're forcing people away to software that actually does the job they want it to.

        Only fools and company sock puppets (sales and marketing) actually believe obsolescence is reasonable, particularly when it comes to data.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Most students, business and personal users don't wish to be unable to open their 10 year old document because it's no longer supported. Students want to be able to access old study notes

          If a student has been held back that long, the old notes are probably not going to help!

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by digitrev (989335)
            Playing devil's advocate here, but there are a lot of career students. Some might even need to take a look at their first year notes on eigenvectors because they need to deal with it in the last year of their Ph.D, and they remember really liking the prof that year.

            Just because you don't see a reason for it, doesn't mean there isn't one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      PowerPoint 95, but not 97, is blocked. It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      When I worked in government, I found that people argued (with a lot of money at stake) over the wording of property ownership documents over a hundred years old. Whenever I hear people say something like this, I hope they're not in charge of anything lasting.

      Of course, I wish our nation's military was not run on Powerpoint, but the reality is that much of our military activity (by far the larg

    • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:12AM (#21879824)

      It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      I can only speculate that you've not worked in any institutions that have persisted for more than 10 years?

      I used to run a university help desk; by the time I left in late 2006 we were still getting requests to convert 5.25" floppies and DOS Wordperfect 4 documents.

      The situation is complicated by many other issues:

      • There is no easy way to identify the files that need conversion. Microsoft gives you no tool or flag to quickly identify old files, which share the same filename conventions as current files. Except of course to open them in Office 2K3SP3 and watch them fail :-(
      • Although bulk conversion tools exist, they cost money and they won't reach files that are secured in such a way that IT support staff can't get at them (e.g., on a CD-ROM in a locked filing cabinet).
      • Because a ridiculously complicated registry hack is required to enable the converters for the old documents, there's no easy way to apply it, for example as an Active Directory group policy. We're left with error-prone methods like push tools & login scripts.

      Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with the "file formats". A file format is not insecure. The issue is that Microsoft is shipping insecure code in Office 2007 and 2003 which may break when these files are opened and allow malicious executable code to run in the user's security context. Rather than fix this insecure code in a shipping product, their policy is to turn off the code and tell the user, "if you want to take the risk, turn it back on, but we won't make it easy."

      I work at an organization that has been grappling with this problem since SP3 came out in September 2007. We routinely work on projects that span 15 years, so it's not at all unusual to open project documentation that is 10+ years old. Companies were loyal to MS Office precisely because it promised reasonably complete forward compatibility with archived documents. Microsoft needs to provide a more robust solution to this problem, preferably by fixing the broken code (gasp!) or (less preferably) giving system administrators the tools necessary to enable and disable the functionality in a more global way.

      • by ta bu shi da yu (687699) * on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:27AM (#21880136) Homepage

        Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with the "file formats". A file format is not insecure. The issue is that Microsoft is shipping insecure code in Office 2007 and 2003 which may break when these files are opened and allow malicious executable code to run in the user's security context. Rather than fix this insecure code in a shipping product, their policy is to turn off the code and tell the user, "if you want to take the risk, turn it back on, but we won't make it easy."


        Thank you!!! Sanest comment I've seen in a long time.
      • by aepervius (535155) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:42AM (#21880182)
        In 25 years you will still able to use an open ISO standard or convert from one standard to another. Microsoft jsut proved to you they are unreliable for the goal you had (forward compatibility).
      • by Heir Of The Mess (939658) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @04:03AM (#21880236) Homepage

        Reminds me of this story:

        With nearly half a century of experience using computers to run their business, Chris M's company knew that law all too well. Ever since that fateful Wednesday -- still known throughout the company as The Crash of '68 -- they swore, Never Again. And forty years later, they've kept their promise.

        Over the years, Chris's employer has come as close to a Perfect Technology Infrastructure as anyone. They hire the best network administrators money can buy and give them whatever resources they need to ensure that the infrastructure remains solid. And that they do.

        The company's backup and retention plan is nothing short of immaculate. Every system they've ever purchased -- from that old payroll program on the System/360 to that bizarre parts database for OS/2 -- can be brought back to life, if not physically than through virtualization. A walk through their "software archive" was a treat for many; new technicians are often astonished to learn, not only of the existence of 8-inch floppy disks, but that the company still has the 8-inch install disks for CP/M. And a drive to run them on.

        Naturally, thanks to the aforementioned Murphy's Law, this elaborate backup and retention is rarely, if ever, called into use. The only excitement the network technicians ever get is that occasional, frantic, "Oh Crap! I accidentally deleted that critical PowerPoint presentation" call. And even that is easily solved by walking the user through their self-service file restoration system.

        But a little while back, the network technicians received a restoration request that actually sounded interesting. A production manager needed a report of the "old old" part numbers for a long out-of-production assembly. "Old old" referred an ancient mainframe system that had been replaced by the "old" system over ten years go and finally shut down in 2001. Restoring the "old old" system meant setting up a new emulation environment, mounting the old disk image, and praying that it boots up without a hitch.

        This was the first time ever that an actual user had requested such a restoration, so the network technicians were naturally a bit nervous. But thanks to their meticulous planning and procedures, everything went fine. The system booted up without a hitch and the production manager was summoned to log in to the terminal they had set up for him. He sat down at the chair, keyed in his username, and then paused for a moment.

        "Now, what was my password five years ago?"

      • by mattpalmer1086 (707360) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @07:24AM (#21880920)
        There is a tool called DROID (Digital Record Object Identification) that will scan a bunch of files and identify the file formats (including the version, not just the mime type).

        It is developed by the Digital Preservation department at the UK National Archives, licensed under a BSD license, and is available from source forge:

        http://droid.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Introduction [sourceforge.net]

    • by dokebi (624663) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:12AM (#21879826)
      It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      Really? How about the US government? NASA anyone?

      Why should anyone stop supporting old document formats? Are the files created a long ago no longer important? How about 100 year old books? Should we burn them all?

      We should stop this file format insanity now, and adopt some open format. Like ODF. Good riddance.
    • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:21AM (#21880104)

      Word 95. PowerPoint 95, but not 97, is blocked. It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      I occasionally load in data tapes from as far back as 1982. Reports related to the data will be in whatever file format is popular at the time, which will be MS Word and MS Excel from the early 1990s on. Since computing power is so cheap now a lot of stuff in a lot of feilds gets reprocessed, old data is a lot more useful than repeating 10 years worth of experiments again or sending 50 guys out to survey an area for two months or even trying to examine something that doesn't exist anymore. Old file formats like TIFF, SEGD, tar and so on are deliberately backwards compatible so that archiving is more than just an expensive hobby. Since Microsoft have moved out of the hobby software space and into the office they should realise that they have to take a professional approach throughout the company to avoid mistakes like this.

    • by mysticgoat (582871) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:43AM (#21880186) Homepage Journal

      It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      Tee-hee! That got laughs from all kinds of government employees, university administrative assistants, paralegals, and so on.

      And this undoubtedly will put a smile on the faces of all the good old boys at Exxon, who have been fighting the good fight to keep from actually having to pay for the damage that their Valdez supertanker did about 20 years ago. If all the prosecutor briefs from before 1995 were suddenly much more difficult to access, then maybe Exxon will succeed in avoiding payment of the $2.5 billion they owe.

      Proprietary file formats are definitely good for some businesses.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by marcello_dl (667940)
      > If you read the knowledge base article, you'll see that the default allowed old-version goes back to before even Word 95. PowerPoint 95, but not 97, is blocked. It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.

      I do not agree, but that's irrelevant.

      What's relevant is that instead of the obvious choice (open a dialog box like "This document is in an old format which poses security risks if coming from an untrusted source. Open anyway? (yes) (no) (always) (never)") the guys at M
    • by Graff (532189) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @07:21AM (#21880910)

      If you read the knowledge base article, you'll see that the default allowed old-version goes back to before even Word 95. PowerPoint 95, but not 97, is blocked. It's very likely that few documents exist in such old formats at this point.
      Intrestingly enough, it looks like this update blocks ALL versions of files saved by Word for the Mac. It even blocks the most current version of Word for the Mac, Word 2004 for Mac [microsoft.com].

      Hmm, can anyone say anti-competitive abuse of a monopoly [albion.com]? Yes, I know there are some alternatives to Word but I've had nothing but odd problems when I use Open Office or Apple's Pages. In the business world you are pretty much required to send people Word documents, even if you are sending them a resume. If you don't use Word you are playing russian roulette with your file, maybe it will work, maybe there will be some odd issue like the page headers not printing properly.

      I really wish we could all get on the same page and come up with a good, highly accepted, replacement format to Microsoft Word and Excel. I know that alternative formats are being worked on but they all look like they have a snowball's chance in hell at getting accepted over the Word document format.
      • Intrestingly enough, it looks like this update blocks ALL versions of files saved by Word for the Mac. It even blocks the most current version of Word for the Mac, Word 2004 for Mac.

        I'm shocked that nobody else checked TFA to verify your claims; even more shocked that you got modded +5 Informative when your comments are actually factually false.

        According to the Knowledgebase article [microsoft.com]:

        Double-click the FilesBeforeVersion registry entry, and then type the value in the Value data box that corresponds to one of t

  • Not really that bad (Score:2, Informative)

    by ZeroPly (881915)
    I don't know if I'd characterize it as "mind-bogglingly complex". It's a series of registry edits. There will probably be appropriate .REG files released by various parties in the next few days, and if you're paranoid, it should take about 15 minutes to roll your own. As for users in non-managed environments, I don't know how many home users really try to access files that are over a decade old.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by deniable (76198)
      There's already an ADM file for group policy in the linked KB article. If you're using group policy, it's a five minute job for the whole domain.
    • by izomiac (815208)
      Home users having documents over a decade old probably isn't too uncommon. I'm 22 and I know that I have a few documents from my grade school days that are probably in one of these formats (I'll probably convert them to rtf now). The question is more, are most people who've used Windows for more than ten years comfortable making registry edits? (I don't know which to doubt more, human intelligence or historic Windows reliability...)
    • Oh, yes it is... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TiggertheMad (556308) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:56AM (#21880218) Homepage Journal
      I don't know if I'd characterize it as "mind-bogglingly complex". It's a series of registry edits.

      I would. The average slob (who could very well be someone who doesn't update their old files for long periods of time) using windows does not know what the registry is, let alone how to modify it. Also consider this: What is more dangerous and likely to cause serious damage, an old file format or a average user trying to fix their registry to read old files?
  • by tajmorton (806296) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:38AM (#21879644) Homepage
    According to TFA, you still can open and save the files (Word 95 and older, and other ancient formats), you need to edit the registry to enable the formats.
  • Hmm, usually, Microsoft stories are the foundation for countless counts of M$ bashing, but I wonder if this story will gain as much M$ bashing as the other stories. From what I could see, this is one of those circumstances that have no real "right" answer that'll make you feel good. At least there IS an official, documented workaround as opposed to the inbound TCP connection limit that came with XP SP2.
  • The minute a user tries to open these retired formats and cannot is the minute they start looking for another solution to open their files. This will help the install base of a lot of alternatives, which may have some staying power once installed. Programs like Abiword, OO.org and Gnumeric are all waiting in the wings.
    • by G Fab (1142219)
      Open Office opens all these files? I guess it does; I haven't used it for a long time.

      IF so, this makes Open Office a lot more valuable to an MS Office user.

      MS is doing this on purpose, to harm competitors. I guess I sound paranoid, but it's just the way MS fights. I am so inclined to favor a successful American business that has made a few nice innovations, but MS will fight with these judo moves that help them slightly and make life a bit more frustrating for their consumers. Dos and windows TOOK OFF
      • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:55AM (#21879752) Journal
        Wasn't "bakward compatibility" the whole crusade they were on last year? "We must preserve support for old formats, which is why we won't make IE standards compliant, and our spec has to back-support IndentsLikeWord95" and the rest?

        Their sneaky brand of evil is saying two conflicting things and making us believe they work together.

        • Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TiggertheMad (556308)
          Their sneaky brand of evil is saying two conflicting things and making us believe they work together.

          Ok, I love to MS bash as much as the next guy, but I cannot fault them for what you are mentioning. The thing that a lot of MS haters forget is that it is a HUGE company, and the right hand often really doesnt know what the left hand is doing, and often seperate teams have their own agendas.

          Modern MS is like the government: There might be a few people that are trying to pull shit, but for the most par
  • I bet they'll do the same thing down the line if OOXML ever gets the ISO stamp of approval. let this be a warning to you, with MS your files are accessible for however long they decide they should be, with FOSS, they're accessible as long as anyone is alive capable of re-compiling the source.
    • by snl2587 (1177409)
      or, in this case, if one were to use any office program, such as OpenOffice, to read the old formats.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by statemachine (840641) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:02AM (#21879790)
      with MS your files are accessible for however long they decide they should be, with FOSS, they're accessible as long as anyone is alive capable of re-compiling the source.

      This is the point that people miss. All of the documents that were archived in the older formats will no longer be openable -- in this case, there is an arcane incantation as a workaround, but what if MSFT removes support entirely so that an authoritative document conversion is no longer possible? With open source, the method is obtainable. With closed source, it may be deleted when the company no longer supports it or closes its doors.

      There are many cities/states/countries that rely on MSFT formats for document archival. Should a city keep spending money every 5-10 years to also update the formats on all of these records in case the necessary closed-source software ceases to exist or work on modern computers?
  • Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Alexx K (1167919)

    If you have documents that old, and they don't need to be edited in the future, you should probably convert them to PDF.

    If they may need to be edited in the future, perhaps LaTeX or ODF would be good choices.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      "you should probably convert them to PDF." Hmm, go tell that to a lawyer with 50,000 old files of which half are older than 20 years, nevermind 10...
  • Revenge (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Clockwork Troll (655321) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:54AM (#21879740) Journal
    I am the maintainer of Visicalc. This means war.

    Think Visicalc 26 service pack 3 is going to import Multiplan files?

    Think again, bitches.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by locokamil (850008)
      Wow. Just wow.

      I had to look up both Visicalc and Multiplan... apparently both were released before I was born.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by lysse (516445)
      Well, at least the world is now safe from the arbitrary execution of 6502 machine code.
  • Easy fix (Score:5, Informative)

    by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @01:55AM (#21879750) Homepage Journal
    An easy work-around is to just install Open Office and then open the obsolete files using the appropriate Open Office program (Writer for Word documents, Calc for Excel spreadsheets, etc.). The user can then do a "save as" and select a newer Microsoft file format. Voila. Problem solved.

    Microsoft probably won't like this work-around since a certain percentage of users may realize that they don't need to pay Microsoft for programs that don't do what they want and they can get a suite of programs that does what they want for free. Realizing this, Microsoft may decide to come up with a better internal solution but don't count on it.

    Cheers,
    Dave
  • I wonder if this is the start of Microsoft finally unburdening themselves from all that awful legacy code that's been such an albatross and has contributed to such bloated apps and OS?
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:06AM (#21879802) Homepage Journal

    Is this definitely just coming with SP3, or has it been around for longer? I hit this issue, or a very similar one, in our organisation several months ago. A user had some old Word 2.0 documents stored on a network drive (from the mid 1990's, before we enforced the use of a DMS), and they wouldn't open in Word 2003. The error dialog that Word displayed only mentioned the registry policy settings (without specifically saying the version was old), and I eventually found a knowledge base article that described the registry hack.

  • by spasm (79260) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:10AM (#21879818) Homepage
    Funnily enough, the thing that finally, permanently, won me over to open document formats (I first used things like openoffice simply because they were free) was discovering I couldn't open my dissertation (written in word 5.1a for mac) on a standard install of office for windows. Yes, I know there's converters, and yes, I know current versions of word for mac can still open 5.1a documents, but I didn't have a mac at the time, and laboriously 'converting' the large numbers of transcripts, notes, papers, and all the other ephemera of writing a dissertation was a huge, timewasting PITA..

    After that, the penny dropped. Using open document formats wasn't simply a way to save money, it was an actual necessity for anyone planning to have a career lasting more than 5 years where writing is a core part of your work.

  • Any government organization or large corporate that has a necessity to retain records has to convert their archives to a newer version. Who is paying for the conversion? Also, Office 95 is 13 years old. If someone upgraded to Office 95 by 97 (for service pack / stability etc) it is 10 years old. Given the investment in the software, if you assume someone used it and upgraded directly to office 2003, then the documents that are affected are less than 5 years old...
  • by filbranden (1168407) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:19AM (#21879854)

    They did this because the old formats are 'less secure', which actually makes some sense,

    This doesn't make sense to me. A file format doesn't have buffer overflow vulnerabilities, the program that opens it has them. A file format cannot execute a virus or a trojan, the program that opens it is the one that does it. I cannot believe that a file format can have inherent vulnerabilities that cannot be circumvented by the program that reads the file.

    On the other hand, considering the ODF vs. OOXML format wars, it seems to me that Microsoft's objective with this is actually to press for the standardization of OOXML. How exactly I don't understand, since the whole point of standard document formats is to avoid this same problem that they've just created.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @02:20AM (#21879856) Homepage

    This is exactly why proprietary formats are bad, at least for documents that need to be kept for a long time for some reason, such as archival or historical documents. Even if open source office applications do similar things and depricate support for old formats, the older application versions might at least be available. Or third party developers could more easily create conversion programs. While open source programs do also exist to read these old proprietary documents today, we don't know if future proprietary document formats will be able to be supported. The open formats will be supportable.

  • by Tim C (15259) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @03:17AM (#21880084)
    I guess the submitter missed the link to an exe you can use to do it for you. I mean, it is buried in the KB article as "Method 1" after all...
    • by deniable (76198) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @04:21AM (#21880316)
      That EXE contains ADM files / Group Policy templates. It's perfect if you're running an AD domain but is not much use for individual users. Those people can get whoever does their support now to use method 2.

      'Mind bogglingly complex' indicates the submitter can't be trusted with a box of crayons.
  • by Zymergy (803632) * on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @04:01AM (#21880234)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence [wikipedia.org]
    Examples:
    -No DirectX 10.x API for WinXP or Win2k. (The nature of the API to be a higher-level Application Programming Interface, I'd forgive not developing for Win2k as it is no longer for sale, but there's NO good reason to deny the API in WinXP, other than to force clearly Planned Obsolescence)
    -No IE7 for Win2k. (interestingly, Firefox still bests ALL versions of IE..)
    -No Support on your year-old PC for Full Windows Vista use. (Again, why? Even Apple and Linux have pretty eye-candied desktops working on older hardware)
    -No to the Sale of WinXP to OEM (non-Business) customers this month http://www.engadget.com/2007/04/12/microsoft-pulling-oem-windows-xp-next-january/ [engadget.com].
    -Etc... (insert your own here)

    I know that in my present line of work, my colleagues and I write meticulous research reports for our multi-million dollar clients.
    Our clients specifically require us to NOT use *any* MS Office 2007 file format; We are to utilize 'not newer than MS Office 2003 format'. (Typically Excel, Access, and Word formats are used).
    Our clients have gone on to clarify, specifically, that the Office 2007 file formats are incompatible with the older MS Office versions and necessitate needless corporate updating for their thousands of internal users, (not to mention the client has decades of reports on file that get updated every 10 to 20 years, often utilizing the original editable report document).

    I too will soon be installing in Open Office very soon. (Hopefully the Excel 2003 formulas and those dating back to Excel 2.0 all work properly in Open Office?)...
    It appears that this "update" is not so much for security or even for ease of development (because it WAS previously WORKING in situ). It stragetically forces users of the older versions of MS Office to update to the new version (or rather adopt the new format) due to interoperability issues.

    If MS Office 2003 did 'it' before and it does not do 'it' now, post-SP3... that is *Intentional*, not "For Your Protection".
    -This would be akin to IE8 not opening 'older' web page formats at all because they used some older and (potentially) unsafe format of html, CSS, Scripting etc.. it deemed unsafe!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Macthorpe (960048)
      You're talking about them adding support to operating systems which are 6-7 years old. Apple just ended support for 'Classic' mode for OS9 in the new version, the changeover from which happened in March 2001. XP was only released 6 months later than that. Can you name a single open source vendor that will support you using a 7 year old version of their product? Of course you can't.

      No DirectX 10.x API for WinXP or Win2k

      Vista uses a completely new display driver model, WDDM, which has features that are required for DirectX 10 that XDDM doesn't s

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by plasmacutter (901737)

        "No DirectX 10.x API for WinXP or Win2k"
        Vista uses a completely new display driver model, WDDM, which has features that are required for DirectX 10 that XDDM doesn't support (e.g. virtualized video memory).

        you mean WD-DRM [auckland.ac.nz].
        the "features" required for DX10 involve numerous DRM frameworks which severely hinder system stability, including hardware based DRM and the requirement for video hardware to be "pre-approved"(TM) by hollywood.

        This is the real reason why they refuse to put DX10 on XP. It would be trivial

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sir Holo (531007) *

        Our clients have gone on to clarify, specifically, that the Office 2007 file formats are incompatible with the older MS Office versions and necessitate needless corporate updating for their thousands of internal users,

        Your clients are wrong. You can download a compatibility pack and readers for Office 2007 documents for Office

        Do you really think that you are going to tell a multi-million-dollar customer, "Do it our way, or you can take your millions of dollars of business elsewhere?"

        The customer is always right.

      • by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @11:34AM (#21882488)

        Given that Apple seem to end support after 6-7 years, and there's no evidence that any OSS offering will extend support that far back, why is there suddenly an outcry with Microsoft stopping support file formats which are now over a decade old?

        A whole decade eh?

        I'm not sure what file format OSS and Apple have dropped that are older than 1997. But just off the top of my head I'd guess that plain old ascii format with CR/LF is 25 years old at least. GIF is more than 20 years old. There's plenty of OSS, closed source software, even Microsoft software that supports these formats.

        Your excuse that these formats are "over a decade old" is pretty lame. Do you really think people don't have old files they want to read 5-10 years later?
      • by Nevyn (5505) * on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @12:14PM (#21882892) Homepage Journal

        Can you name a single open source vendor that will support you using a 7 year old version of their product? Of course you can't.

        See the RHEL support policy [redhat.com], everything gets a 7 year support policy by default. IIRC RHEL-2.1 has at least a couple of years extension from that too.

  • by toby (759) * on Wednesday January 02, 2008 @09:43AM (#21881546) Homepage Journal
    Data obsolescence is a huge problem. MS doesn't give a damn, their business model is to sit between you and your data. (OOXML versus ODF.)

    Apple also did something like this (or worse) when they EOL'd Classic in Leopard. Millions of files become inaccessible overnight because the applications to read them simply cannot be run. It's thoughtless and cynical and extremely destructive.

    The summary is not alarmist. Data obsolescence happens every day. It's a fatal flaw in the proprietary software model that RMS correctly identified decades ago.

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