Office 2007 SP2 – what’s caught our eye

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Some highlights and low lights of Service Pack 2.

Only 24 hours since Office 2007 Service Pack 2 was released, here are some highlights and lowlights that have caught our eye. Over the coming weeks we’ll look at some features in detail and, hopefully, report as Microsoft discloses more information about the changes in SP2.


Patience, Grasshopper

Any Office Service Pack is like a big box arriving on the doorstep of Office customers – only time will tell if it’s a box of goodies, Pandora’s Box or, most likely, a mix of the two. Microsoft, as is their habit, it pushing the positives. Any problems are either downplayed, ignored or as yet unknown.

Our advice is the same this time as for past Office Service Packs. Prudent Office 2007 users should wait a few weeks before applying Office 2007 Service Pack 2, in case any (euphemistic) ‘issues’ come to light from other people finding out the hard way.

Some readers have interpreted our remarks to mean that Office 2007 Service Pack 2 is bad – we’re not saying that at all. We are saying that for something as complex as an update to Microsoft Office it’s too early to tell. Already Microsoft is fessing up to Office 2007 SP2 – changes and problems and from past experience we’d expect to see a few more.

For example there’s this download released a few days before SP2. The download purports to be a fix for an unspecified error when installing Office Service Packs. We’d like to tell you more (certainly someone having trouble installing SP2 needs to know) however the link to the KB article (967642) with that information is unavailable, over 24 hours after SP2 was released to the public.

Office 2007 SP2 - no link to KB967642.jpg image from Office 2007 SP2 - what

Unless you have a pressing problem that needs fixing (and you know SP2 is the solution) why not wait a few weeks? That gives Microsoft time to sift through reports from the field and let us know of problems in the Service Pack. The company can also spend some time getting their own Knowledge Base ducks in the proverbial row.

If you want to dive in now check out Office 2007 Service Pack – downloads available now


What’s going on?

Another reason for waiting is for better documentation to appear. Some features in SP2 come with little detail. One example is “Improves the fidelity of .pdf and .xps output” – since many people use and rely on the PDF export function its essential Office users know more than that.

Security conscious customers would like to know more about the “ISO-OOXML-compliant password verifier” than just a mention that it’s been added.

As usual with Office updates there are long lists of fixes many of which come with only a few words of explanation. Happily Office 2007 SP2 has seen some improvement in the quality of these lists – some past efforts have been more cryptic than a misplaced crossword clue.

The OneNote 2007 SP2 fix list is short but should be considered the ‘gold standard’ that other Office development and documentation teams should follow. The OneNote list is detailed and useful to paying customers. Yet again, OneNote leads the way – well done!

Office Watch has compiled pages of the listed fixes in each of the major Office 2007 applications – both the summary and full list from Microsoft. From one page you can search for keywords related to anything you’re interested in:


Microsoft has been quoted alleging there’s over 2,000 updates in Service Pack 2 which is strange given that the company’s own list of issues fixed with SP2 totals around 600.


So many to choose from

Remember the days when an Office Service Pack was a single download? We’re long past that now.

While many people will only need the main 290MB download, there are 16 different downloads for client software alone plus another eight for related server systems. There are separate downloads for SharePoint Designer 2007, Project 2007 and Visio 2007.

Many SP2 client software patches have a matching SP2 language pack update if you have multiple language packs installed.

The free viewers also have SP2 updates.

We have the full list and links at Office-Watch.com


And then there’s more

Nowhere on Microsoft’s Service Pack 2 info pages will you find mention of yet more Office 2007 downloads.

At the same time as Service Pack 2 was released are updated Help file downloads as well.

These updated help files are clearly linked to Service Pack 2 with changes in the help file that only make sense for SP2 users. For example mentions of the new OpenDocument file support and the PDF/XPS download links removed.

But no, we have no idea why the help file updates were not included in the main Service Pack 2 downloads.

All the links you need (except one that’s probably ‘MIA’ at Microsoft ) New Office 2007 help files available now


And yet more, for earlier versions of Office

On top of all that, there is an update for Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003 users. Office 2007 update for other versions of Office has details.


OpenDocument format

The most obvious change in Service Pack 2 is the inclusion of OpenDocument format support. OpenDocument is the other internationally recognized document format, the other is Microsoft’s own Office 2007 documents (.docx etc).

Microsoft promised OpenDocument format support with Service Pack 2, it’s certainly there and more completely than we expected.

Office 2007 SP2 - OpenDocument save as.jpg image from Office 2007 SP2 - what

Save As now has an ‘OpenDocument’ option in Word 2007, Excel 2007 and Powerpoint 2007 but, somewhat surprisingly, you can make OpenDocument files your default format as well.

Office 2007 SP2 - OpenDocument as default format.jpg image from Office 2007 SP2 - what

The documents supported are OpenDocument Text (*.odt), OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods), and OpenDocument Presentations (*.odp).


Extensible File Formats

Of longer term interest is the new Extensible File Formats feature. Microsoft has put ‘hooks’ into Word 2007, Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007 which let other developers add their own file formats into the programs. The programming details start here.

This is a clever move. It takes the pressure off Microsoft to support or improve support for any non-Microsoft file format. Now the company can simply point to the EFF details and tell people to make their own.

While Extensible File Formats is promoted as a way to support third-party file formats what’s happening behind the scenes is that the developer converts the document to and from Microsoft’s OpenXML format. Office 2007 programs then deal with the temporary (and hidden from the user) OpenXML file. This is undoubtedly means a performance hit for anyone choosing to use a non-Microsoft format.


Faster Outlook

We’re promised a faster Outlook 2007 with Service Pack 2 though promises that “Outlook 2007 SP2 is 26 percent faster than its predecessor on a set of common e-mail tasks and is even faster, 35 percent, with larger mailboxes”, seem ‘over the top’ to the point of stretching credulity.

We can’t say we’ve noticed any particular improvement during daily use over the last six weeks but some careful benchmarking may well show some improvements.

If Outlook 2007 SP2 is as fast as Microsoft claims – what were they doing during the development of Outlook 2007 originally, to say nothing of Service Pack 1? See Faster Outlook – what took them so long?


Outlook shuts down nicely

For as long as Outlook has existed, it has stubbornly refused to shut down properly. For almost any reason, or none at all, Outlook will disappear from the screen but continue to operate in the background.

At long, after many years of denial and blaming third-party programs, Microsoft has acknowledged this is a problem. Outlook 2007 SP2 has an improved shut-down system that promises Outlook will go away “in just a few seconds, reliably, and consistently“.

The catch is that other programs linking into Outlook have to comply with new standards to let the faster shut-down happen. Top on the list on non-compliant ‘third-party’ programs is Microsoft’s own Outlook Live Connector (OLC) 12.1!

So don’t expect Outlook to magically close faster once SP2 is installed – it make take some time and updates of other programs for that to happen.


Apply SP2 consistently

If you have multiple copies of Office 2007 it’s a good idea to apply Service Pack 2 at the same time to all of them, especially if they share data like a common Exchange Server mailbox or Sharepoint site.

For example the Outlook Live Connector (OLC) 12.1. There are many changes in Service Pack 2 which impact on the OLC. If you have multiple copies of Outlook 2007 with OLC accessing the same Hotmail account make sure all the copies of Outlook are updated with Service Pack 2 at the same time. According to Microsoft using a mix of SP2 and non-SP2 updated Outlook 2007’s will result in duplicated contacts and appointments.

There are many changes to Outlook’s calendaring system and using a mix of Outlook 2007 versions with Exchange Server might give you some ‘interesting’ results.


More blocked file types

Outlook 2007 SP2 has added more four new file extensions to Outlook’s list of blocked file types, while Microsoft doesn’t say so, all four extensions seem aimed at protecting Outlook users from security lapses in Microsoft’s own products



  • .cnt– there are several companies that use this extension but it seems to have been added to the block list because of security issues when used as part of Windows Help files.
  • .osd– another multi-use extension but again this seems targeted at Microsoft’s use of .osd as a Windows system file.
  • .vbp– a Visual Basic developer extension
  • .hpj– a Microsoft Help project file.

Version

Office 2007 Service Pack 2 is officially version 12.0.6425.1000 with ‘SP2’ shown in the About screen.

Office 2007 SP2 - Word version details.jpg image from Office 2007 SP2 - what

Outlook 2007 SP2 version details.jpg image from Office 2007 SP2 - what


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