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Custom XML - Word 2007/2003 update

The 11 January 2010 deadline has passed with sales of Office 2007 continuing, only now in the USA the software is sold without the ‘Custom XML’ feature.

The 11 January 2010 deadline has passed with sales of Office 2007 continuing, only now in the USA the software is sold without the ‘Custom XML’ feature.

Microsoft was a quiet as possible about the changeover with some updates happening without any notice at all.

Our Office 2007 ‘Custom XML’ and update FAQ has been updated based on your questions – thanks for all of them

Document Properties

The in-built document properties are NOT affected by the ‘Custom XML’ removal. Properties such as Author, Title, Subject etc are stored in XML format in the Office 2007 formats but they are part of the specification and thus not ‘custom’ XML

The ‘update’

On the Microsoft web site you can find what is euphemistically called an ‘update’ for Word 2007 or Word 2003. This ‘update’ actually removes the ‘Custom XML’ feature.

You only have to install this ‘update’ if Microsoft explicitly tells you to do so.

We don’t like the use of the word ‘update’ in this case because it implies an improvement upon the existing software – and this patch definitely is NOT an improvement. It’s a legally required crippling of Office. The word ‘patch’ or ‘revision’ would have been better as well as a more explicit statement that only end users who are asked to should download the patch.

The Word 2003 patch is misleadingly described by Microsoft as “This update contains stability and performance improvements.” and later on the same page it only says the “update will affect a particular custom XML tagging implementation”. For ‘affect’ read ‘disable’ — typical and quite unnecessary Microsoft weasel words.

Retail Boxes

No word on the changeover of Office 2007 retail packs in the USA. In theory all stock should have been recalled and replaced but its doubtful that happened.

How can you tell if a retail box is the original or new crippled version? Microsoft hasn’t responded to our questions about this, we suspect there will be no indication on the outside of the box.

On our FAQ we suggest that you might be able to buy a copy of Office 2007 and use the supplied Product Key with a different Office 2007 install disk bought before 11 January 2010.


The Office 2007 downloads for MSDN subscribers worldwide have changed (the ‘last updated’ date is now 8 Jan 2010).

Happily most MSDN subscribers have a DVD with the original Office 2007 install files – worth keeping that disk!

Compatibility Pack

The compatibility pack is available for Office 2003 and earlier versions to let them open and save the Office 2007/2010 document formats (docx, xlsx etc.). The pack handles Custom XML to the extent that it reads the extra XML and should preserve it when saving the document back to disk. The compatibility pack has to be ‘crippled’ (sorry ‘updated’) since it reads and writes back the disputed patent code.

Microsoft declined to answer questions about any effect on the compatibility pack even though it was clear that it would have to be updated.

However we can tell you that on 6 Jan 2010, Microsoft quietly changed the compatibility pack to remove the Custom XML support. According to the KB article, DOCX and DOCM files opened in Word 2003 and previous with the pack will remove any Custom XML in the files.

Does it matter?

Does all this really matter? It’s a fair question and Microsoft has been downplaying the effect of it all.

Most personal and small business users will not use ‘Custom XML’ features and may not notice it’s removal.

Developers would certainly want the Custom XML feature. Even if it’s not immediately needed, viewing or adding XML to Office documents is a useful part of any developer’s toolkit.

Larger organizations might be making use of ‘Custom XML’ features to add or extract details from Ms Office documents. For them it would be important to ensure that all copies of Office 2007 have the same version and functionality.

We’re always inclined to caution when it comes to Microsoft Office software – the idea of a crippled version of Office with a core feature removed doesn’t fill us with any confidence. We suggest you try to stick with the pre-11 January 2010 Office 2007 whenever possible.

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