Office 2007 'Custom XML' and update FAQ


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Here’s the known situation regarding an enforced change to Word 2007 and Word 2003. We’ll update this page as hard information becomes available.

Microsoft isn’t exactly forthcoming about this problem so there are more questions than we’d like and even less answers.

Office Watch asked a series of questions to Microsoft and they declined to answer any of them despite less than a fortnight before the change will occur.

Office Watch always aims to report not just the official line but the ‘real world’ situation – so on this page you’ll read not just what is supposed to happen but what probably will happen. We’ll also suggest workarounds that are not strictly ‘kosher’ but are practical.

Terminology

We’ll use a bit of shorthand to describe the two versions of Office:

‘Original Office’ means Microsoft Office that has been sold with all features since original release.

‘Crippled Office’ means the new version of Office that Microsoft is releases to comply with a court ruling against it. This version of Office has the core ‘Custom XML’ removed and may have unforeseen bugs arising from the rushed edits – hence the word ‘crippled’.

What’s it all about?

Who is affected or not?

The ‘new’ Office 2007

The Word 2003 / Word 2007 patch

Office Compatibility Pack

How to tell the difference


What’s it All about?

Microsoft has been taken to court by i4i who accuse Microsoft of breaching a patent in implementing a core feature of Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Word 2003.

To date, Microsoft has lost the court case and an appeal. The courts have ruled that Microsoft has to stop selling software that uses the feature covered by the patent.

That means Microsoft has rushed to make a new ‘crippled’ version of Office 2007 which removes the contested feature. Anyone who buys Office 2007 on or after 11 January 2010 should only be sold a ‘crippled’ version of Office without a core feature.

The court ruling only applies in the USA and for new sales of software.


What is the disputed feature in Office?

The feature that has to be removed is called ‘Custom XML’ for short.

It lets advanced user and organizations ‘tag’ their documents so that information can be found and read reliably. Office Watch has details on Custom XML here.

Microsoft has promoted the ‘Custom XML’ feature for many years. While individuals are probably unaware of the feature, ‘Custom XML’ is a powerful tool for organizations.

Since the loss of the court case, Microsoft has changed their tune and now say ‘Custom XML’ is a “little used” feature of Office.


Is i4i just trying to milk Microsoft for money?

If you mean that i4i is a ‘patent troll’ – then no. A ‘patent troll’ is a company which buys up patents then searches for opportunities to demand payment for use of those patents. From various reports it seems that i4i is a legitimate technology company that developed and patented a system which a court has found was used by Microsoft without payment or permission.


Couldn’t Microsoft avoid all this?

Yes. While the details of any negotiations between Microsoft and i4i aren’t known, it seems that Microsoft has no interest in paying for use of the patent infringing ‘Custom XML’ technology.

Either the price is too high or Microsoft feels that it will eventually win on appeal.


Who is affected or not


Who is affected by the court ruling?

The court ruling applies only to:



  • Word 2007 or Word 2003

    • including Office 2007 and Office 2003
    • or any other bundle that includes Word 2007 or Word 2003
    • this includes software sold with or preinstalled trials a new computer.

       and



  • Sales on or after 11 January 2010
    and
  • in the USA

Since Word 2003/Office 2003 isn’t now normally sold for most purposes the ruling applies to Word 2007/Office 2007.

More details below.


Who is NOT affected?

The court ruling does NOT apply to the vast majority of Office users because they are in one of these broad categories:



  • outside the USA
    or
  • have purchased Microsoft Office before 11 January 2010

I have Office 2007 already

If you bought MS Office before 11 January 2010 then there’s no problem.


I want to buy Office 2007 and live outside the USA

You can buy Office 2007 before or after the 11 Jan 2010 date – the court ruling doesn’t apply outside the USA.


What features are ‘crippled’ from Office?

Only the ‘Custom XML’ feature should be removed from the post 10 Jan 2010 version of Office in the USA.

However Office Watch has been covering Microsoft Office matters for over a decade and we’ve seen many cases where an ‘update’ or ‘patch’ to Office has led to other unintended bugs or problems. In other words, the ‘crippled’ version of Office might turn out to have other crippled features.

We hope we’re wrong but, based on Microsoft’s track record, it’s quite possible there’ll be problems with the ‘crippled’ version of Office that don’t appear in the ‘original’ version.


What features are NOT ‘crippled’ or removed.

According to Microsoft, the following parts of Office 2007 are NOT affected by the patent case:



  • Office Content Controls are not affected – this was widely assumed but it’s nice to see it confirmed.
  • Custom XML stored in ‘doc’ (Word 97-2003) file format is not affected.
  • Ribbon customization and RibbonXML are not affected.
  • The ISO / ECMA standards for Open XML (the Microsoft Office 2007 document formats, sort of) are unchanged.

We’d add to that list ‘Document Properties’ such as Author, Title, Subject etc – these are stored in XML format in the Office 2007 formats but they are part of the specification and thus not ‘custom’ XML.


What is the effective date?

You’ll see both ’10 January 2010′ and ’11 January 2010′ being mentioned – both are strictly correct:

The court ruling applies to US sales on or after Monday, 11 January 2010.

Another way to say that is sales after Sunday, 10 January 2010.


The ‘new’ Office 2007


Does it matter which version of Office 2007 I have?

Officially the only difference between the original Office 2007 and the new crippled Office 2007 is the removal of the Custom XML feature. Microsoft is downplaying the impact of the change for its own reasons.

If only it was that simple….

Office Watch has been covering Microsoft Office matters for over a decade and we’ve seen many cases where an ‘update’ or ‘patch’ to Office has led to other unintended bugs or problems. We hope we’re wrong but, based on Microsoft’s track record, it’s quite possible there’ll be problems with the ‘crippled’ version of Office that don’t appear in the ‘original’ version.

Then there’s the problem of future security patches, updates and service packs.  Until now Office 2007 has one set of common code for all – from 11 Jan 2010 there will be two different ‘streams’ of Office code, one with Custom XML and one without.  All updates will have to be tested and verified against both sets of Office code.  Office is incredibly complex and intricate computer code – it’s bad enough trying to make changes to the original program without doubling the size of the problem. 

If you have many computers, it is better if all of them run exactly the same version of Office.


Isn’t it better if all my copies of Office 2007 are the same version

Yes. If you or your organization has many computers, consistency of software makes maintenance and support a lot easier.

In theory, new Office volume licenses sold in the USA after 10 January 2010 should be used with the new ‘crippled’ version of Office. This would lead to a mixed of ‘original’ and ‘crippled’ versions of Office in the same organization.

In practice it’s hard to see that Microsoft can enforce which version of Office is used with licenses bought after 10 Jan 2010. We expect many companies will continue to install the same version of Office on all computers – for the sake of consistency and ease of support.

Some volume license customers in the USA might like to cover themselves by advancing purchases so they occur before 11 January 2010. This would avoid any difficulties in future.


MSDN and other download subscribers

Microsoft hasn’t said what they’ll do for MSDN and other software subscribers who can download MS software.

As we suspected, the MSDN site has been changed and it appears that only the ‘crippled’ version of Office 2007 is now available (the ‘last updated’ date is now 8 Jan 2010).   Strangely the Office 2003 download doesn’t appear to have changed (the ‘Last Updated’ date is still 24 March 2006 for Standard edition and 6 July 2007 for Professional Enterprise edition).

We did suggest that MSDN subscribers download the original Office 2007 install files before the change but that opportunity is now past.  Happily most MSDN subscribers have a DVD with the original Office 2007 install files – worth keeping that disk!


Retail Stock changeover

Microsoft has declined to say what, if any, actions they’ll take to remove existing versions of Office 2007 from retail stores.

Since there’s plenty of Office 2007 stock on the shelves its quite likely that even a physical copy bought after the cutoff date won’t be the new legally compliant version.

Presumably the downloaded version from the Microsoft Store will be adjusted though, as we’ve mentioned before, the MS Store is usually the most expensive option and best avoided anyway.

There has been talk of ‘original’ Office 2007 boxes being removed from the shelves but there’s nothing in Microsoft public statements to support that (only saying that stock will be ‘available’). The company is notable in refusing to answer a direct question on the subject.

We asked Microsoft how customers could tell the difference between retail boxes of the ‘original’ and ‘crippled’ Office 2007 and the company declined to answer.

The result is that retail purchasers really don’t know what they are buying.


How can I tell if a retail box of Office 2007 is the ‘original’ or ‘crippled’?

Microsoft has declined to say what, if any, indication will be on Office 2007 retail boxes to show if it’s the ‘crippled’ post 10 Jan 2010 version.

Hopefully there will be some version number or other indicator on the outside of the box. However in the past Microsoft has often changed the contents of Office retail boxes with nothing on the outside to indicate the change.

We asked Microsoft how customers could tell the difference between retail boxes of the ‘original’ and ‘crippled’ Office 2007 and the company declined to answer. The result is that retail purchasers really don’t know what they are buying.

You can ask the store staff but it’s unlikely they’ll know what you’re talking about or give you a straight answer.


Office with a new computer (OEM)

Microsoft has released a patch for the install disks of Office 2007 used by computer makers who sell Office 2007 preinstalled on new computers or offer the trial version (called OEM’s in the trade). They are required to apply the patch to all computers sold after 10 Jan 2010.

Naturally the large PC makers (Dell, HP etc) will comply but 100% compliance is unlikely.

There are thousands of small PC makers. Microsoft can supply the patch for OEM install files and say it’s required, but there’s no way they can check that every small or medium sized PC maker is selling the new crippled Office 2007.

In addition there’s the retail stock of computers in stores, where the same questions (and lack of answers) as for boxed product apply, see above.


New purchase – old install disk

If I buy the crippled Office 2007 could I borrow or copy an original Office 2007 install disk and use that with a newly purchased Product Key?”

Legally – no.

In practice – probably. We don’t know for sure but it’s unlikely that Microsoft will issue a special series of Product Keys that will only work with the post 11 January / crippled version of Office.

It’s more likely that an Office 2007 Product Key bought after 11 January can be used with an ‘original’ (pre 11 Jan 2010) install disk. While it’s a technical license breach you can install Microsoft Office without a CD in various ways. See the Office Watch article on ‘If you’ve lost your Office install disks‘ and How to install Office without a CD or DVD drive might also be helpful.


The Word 2007 and Word 2003 patch

Quietly, in last hours of 2009, Microsoft released details of an ‘end user’ patch to cover the ‘Custom XML’ patent dispute.  This patch is only required if Microsoft tells you to use it and we’d quietly suggest ignoring Microsoft’s request if you receive one.

Looking at KB article 978951 has some info and links to an ‘updates’ for Word 2007 and Word 2003 to remove the Custom XML feature which is the subject of court cases.

Microsoft says “You must install this update if you are instructed by Microsoft in a separate communication.” (our emphasis).

The patch will remove the Custom XML feature from Word 2007 or Word 2003.


Why apply this patch?

Possibly it may be necessary if Microsoft discovers un-crippled copies of Word 2003/2007 were sold after 10 Jan 2010. If the company can track the end users, they could send a demand (note the word ‘must’ above) that Office 2007 be patched.

How Microsoft could or would force you to apply the patch and cripple your copy of Office 2007 of Office 2003 remains to be seen.  It may be that Microsoft will send a ‘separate communication’ to end users instructing to apply the ‘update’ but, in practice, there seems no way that the company could or would ensure that you’ve followed their direction. 


Windows Update / Microsoft Update

There’s been talk that this ‘patch’ will be ‘pushed’ out to all Office users via Windows Update / Microsoft Update. 

Microsoft declines to confirm or deny this will happen.

Since the court ruling only applies to Office purchased after 10 Jan 2010 it’s hard to understand why Microsoft would force the crippling of their software on existing customers.  The current wording of the KB article suggests, but doesn’t confirm, that the patch won’t be more widely distributed.


Word 2003 patch?

Since Word 2003 is no longer sold (and the court ruling only applies to software sold after 10 Jan 2010 in the USA) there would seem to be no need for a Word 2003 patch.

There may be some circumstances it will be required or maybe Microsoft is covering itself?

As with the Word 2007 patch we’d only use it if Microsoft specifically insists that you apply it.


An ‘update’ – really?

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.

We beleive it would be better for this ‘update’ to be more clearly described as optional and only required if Microsoft specifically instructs.  In other words as well as saying some people ‘must’ install the patch Microsoft should say ‘users need NOT install this update unless specifically instructed’.

Even worse, one headline writer calls the new ‘crippled’ Office 2007 a facelift!!


How to tell the difference

However you get Microsoft Office (retail box, volume licence, OEM etc), how can you tell the difference between the ‘original’ Office 2007 and the post 11 Jan 2010 ‘crippled’ Office 2007?

In an ideal world there would be a clear indicator on the ‘About’ screen but in the past Microsoft has made it difficult by only changing the version number in the file properties of a specific DLL.

Microsoft declined to explain how you can tell the original and crippled version of Office apart.

Regretably it seems that Microsoft is falling back on the old ‘check the DLL properties’ that we’d hoped had gone the way of the Dodo.

Details of the file date/time, size and version are on the Microsoft web site – for Word 2007  and Word 2003.

As mentioned above, there’s no information on how the new retail boxes might be marked.


Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats

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 tto 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.

Note that Microsoft has released the updated compatibility pack for all Office customers around the world even though they really only needed to do it for US customers.  Presumably Microsoft decided it was cheaper for them to supply a single version of the compatibility pack.

OOf course, there’s nothing stopping you continuing to use the Office Compatibility Pack that you’ve already installed or apply a uncrippled copy of the pack you’ve previously downloaded.

 


Questions?

Yes, it’s complicated. It’s made more complicated by Microsoft’s silence. If you’ve read the above and other Office Watch articles yet still have questions – contact us here.

We’d especially like to hear from people who have experiences buying Office 2007 after the 11 Jan 2010 change date. Which version did you get? What did the sales people tell you?

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