.docx support has some ways to go

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Microsoft’s own divisions are slow to embrace the Office 2007 / OpenXML document formats.

The Office 2007 document formats are out there but if they are to fulfill their potential Microsoft needs to do a lot more work. Even within Microsoft the support for ‘.docx’ and its companion is surprisingly lacking.

Many companies will have to update their systems to deal with the new document formats, but with the poor lead from Microsoft, you can hardly expect outsiders to do the job that Redmond itself is slow to do.

ActiveSync / Mobile support

The link between Windows and the Pocket PC/Windows Mobile devices is managed by Microsoft’s ActiveSync software. Among its many roles, ActiveSync converts documents to and from the mobile versions of the Office formats.

On the Pocket PC, the tiny version of Word works with .psw or .pwd files. If you copy a .doc file to a Windows Mobile device it is converted to .psw/.pwd format on the PDA.

Microsoft customers are entitled to an update for Activesync to convert .docx etc files to the Pocket PC formats for Office and vice-versa.

As it stands, if you copy a .docx file to a Pocket PC it just gets copied with no conversion. Word for the Pocket PC can’t handle .docx at all.

ActiveSync should have been updated well before the release of Office 2007 to allow for an easy transition, but as it stands customers loyal to Microsoft are left hanging. So much for the ‘Microsoft Advantage’ of buying an all Microsoft setup.

Unfortunately the major alternative to ActiveSync is Documents To Go from DataViz who have said it will take until the middle of 2007 to add OpenXML support.

Office Mobile

None of the Microsoft PDA devices support the new document formats directly – ie you can’t open .docx .xlsx directly. Sometime in mid to late 2007 there will be an update for Windows Mobile 5 devices to let them work with the new formats directly.

Earlier Pocket PC/Windows Mobile devices will not be upgraded – that would not be so bad if ActiveSync is upgraded to handle conversion to and fro.

Mac support lacking

There’s no support for .docx etc on the Macintosh, not even in Microsoft’s own Office for Mac range.

After some complaints it was announced that support for Microsoft’s own document formats would not be implemented on the Mac until the middle of 2007 – allegedly because the technical details of the new file formats wasn’t known.

The excuse that Microsoft itself needed to wait for the final document formats is ridiculous. The beta of the Office compatibility pack has been out for a long time and then tweaked for the final release. The main technical specs of the ‘docx’ formats have been in place for more than a year. While there were amendments, the documentation has been available inside Microsoft for some time. All that was lacking was the will and resources inside Microsoft to do something for all their Office customers.

Macintosh users rightly feel that they are treated like ‘second class citizens’ but are wrong to blame the Macintosh team at Microsoft. The Mac Business Unit (MacBU) are like ‘second class cousins’ inside the company with considerably less resources and interest than the Windows based parts of the company.

While we like the .docx formats and think they will prevail in the long run, it’s hard to justify using the default Office 2007 formats in many situations. If you never share documents or only share with people who’ll definitely have Office 2007 then you could make the switch – but few people operate in such carefully controlled worlds.

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