New Restrictions On Old Office Software (Part 1)

12/14/2012 2:55:12 PM

We wonder why Google is reducing document compatibility, and is disappointed with the limitations of Office 2013 RT

Google Drive has withdrawn the option to export documents in the old binary formats of DOC, XLS and PPT, ostensibly in order to concentrate on improving export of the newer OOXML formats (DOCX, XLSX and PPTX). These formats were introduced with Microsoft Office 2007, and produce smaller, more robust files consisting of zipped XML code: all are fully documented via Ecma and ISO standards, making it easier to write good export routines for them than for the poorly documented old binary formats. Google Drive will continue to import files in the old formats. The restricted functionality of Drive already alters the look of Office documents you import, but improved export routines might make the results on exporting back into Office more faithful.

New restrictions on old office software

New restrictions on old office software

When you upload a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document to Google Drive, you get a read-only copy of the file that can only be viewed online and shared with other people, but an extra step of “exporting” the file to Google Drive is needed if you want a separate, editable copy of the document. The online view of the read-only file may not look much like the original, depending on the complexity of its formatting, but the editable copy will almost certainly show differences unless its formatting is so simple as to correspond to the fonts, sizes, colours and formatting available in Docs.

As I warned when reviewing Google Apps Premier Edition in January 2009: “The Google applications themselves can be updated and changed at any time without any warning as Google releases new versions, and if you don’t like the change or it breaks your documents, there’s no way for you to go back to using the old version.” If your version of Office is 2000, XP or 2003 and you use Google Apps, from 1 October 2012 you’ll need the compatibility pack.

Users of later versions of Office aren’t affected, while users of Office 97 and earlier will have to upgrade or switch to a suite that can read the new file formats. One awkward question is why did Google give only five days’ notice of such an important change?

Exchange futures

The past few versions of Office have contained versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Server that were completed in lockstep with their front-end clients, and you could also rely on the server being backwards-compatible with other Microsoft software in your environment. There are times when features of client and server are interdependent – for instance, where a feature of a new Exchange version requires a new version of Outlook – but we’re used to all the software arriving at once and working together, and with our existing infrastructure. Regrettably, this seems to be falling apart for “Wave 15” – that is, Office 2013, Exchange Server 2013 and the rest.

Office 2013

Office 2013

Microsoft has announced that a Service Pack (SP3) will be required for Exchange Server 2010 to make it compatible with Windows Server 2012 and Exchange Server 2013, and this isn’t going to be shipped until the first half of 2013. Now H1 is usually a euphemism for Q2, April to June, to avoid having to say it will be that late. If it were going to ship in Q1, surely the company would know by the end of September 2012? How much work is left to do, three-to-six or six-to-nine months’ worth?

When Office 2010 was released, Microsoft talked about delivering new versions approximately every two years, so customers with Software Assurance agreements could see the benefit by receiving at least one upgrade during their term. Everyone confidently predicted that the next version of Office would be Office 2012, but release slipped into H2 2012 and Microsoft announced it would be called “Office 2013”. A couple of months ago it became clear that Office 2013 wouldn’t be complete by the launch of Windows 8, at the end of October 2012, despite being integral to the Windows 8 RT offering on ARM-powered tablets. What was actually going to ship with Windows 8 RT was a preview version of Office, with finished code to follow probably between November and February, alongside full versions for x86 and x64 architectures.

It now emerges that until SP3 for Exchange Server 2010 ships, you won’t be able to run Exchange Server 2013 in the same network with it, nor will you be able to install Exchange Server 2010 on Windows Server 2012. That will make migrating Exchange from 2010 to 2013 difficult – and it highlights that Exchange Server 2013 isn’t as far along in its development path as it should be.

Exchange 2013 requires Windows Server 2008 R2 (or Windows Server 2012, which is already available) and it won’t run on any previous version of Windows Server. In short, Microsoft said in July that Exchange 2013 would be compatible with Exchange 2010 upon release – but now we’re told it requires SP3 for Exchange Server 2010, which might not be available until next June.

Google Drive is getting better, but it has suddenly dropped support for exporting files in Microsoft Office 97-2003 format

Google Drive is getting better, but it has suddenly dropped support for exporting files in Microsoft Office 97-2003 format

If Microsoft goes back on its commitment to server compatibility from release, and plans to ship Exchange 2013 before this necessary Service Pack, then you’ll have a hard time installing it – unless it’s onto a brand-new, clean network. Exchange 2007 is also meant to be compatible with Exchange 2013 from release, but there’s no word yet on when (or if) a Service Pack will be required/available to enable this.

Microsoft has been consistently poor at communicating about its “Wave 15” products, allowing snippets of information to leak out on various blogs rather than providing consistent information through recognised channels.

This is just another example where we’ve had to tease out facts from the Exchange 2013 Preview documentation and combine them with other snippets about Exchange Server 2010 SP3, to discover things we’d rather not hear.

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