The release of Office 2007 marked Microsofts first major default file shift since Office 97. This time around, Microsoft is offering a compatibility add-in that allows users of older versions of Office to read, edit and save word processor, spreadsheet and presentation documents in the Open XML formats new to Office 2007. Based on my tests of the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, I can report that Microsoft has done well in keeping its upward-compatibility promises.
The file conversion pack, released on June 18, is a free 27.5MB download for users of Office 2000, XP and 2003. During my tests, the pack enabled seamless conversion between earlier and later versions of Office.
In fact, I didnt run into a single formatting issue. Users should note that Excel 2007 recalculates formulas when opening files last saved by an earlier version of the application. And while Word 2000 and all Office XP and Office 2003 documents can be converted natively, Excel 2000 and PowerPoint 2000 documents have to be converted within Windows Explorer.
Office 2007 shops that are working with partners or customers running earlier versions of Microsoft Office applications—or organizations facing a future with Vista or Office 2007—will find the compatibility pack a welcome addition.
During tests, installation of the compatibility pack was easy.
To test the Microsoft Compatibility Pack, I used a methodology similar to the one I used for testing the recently released Sun ODF Plug-in for Microsoft Office. I took several Office 2007-formatted word processor, spreadsheet and presentation files, opening each file in Office XP using the Microsoft Compatibility Pack. I made a small modification to each file, and then saved the modified documents in both Office 2007 and Office XP formats.
I then printed out the original document, the modified, XP-formatted document and the modified, 2007-formatted document for comparison. Ideally, all three would look the same, save for the small modifications Id made. As it turned out, all three files reproduced with what I would venture to say is perfect file conversion fidelity.
I began with three sample Office 2007 word processor documents, or .docx files. The documents spanned the formatting gamut, from very simple to intricate and complicated.
The first word processor document tested was formatted to resemble a typical agenda of a community meeting, employing the usual hierarchical, alphanumeric format of an outline. I opened the .docx file using the Compatibility Pack, modified the file slightly, and then saved it in .docx and .doc formats. I opened the modified files with Office 2007, and was unable to find any differences between them.
The next word processor file I tested primarily consisted of a table of contents and charts loaded with different fonts and language accents. After undergoing the same testing process I performed on the agenda document, file conversion was flawless.
The third word processor document I tested was a heavily formatted table packed with numerous images and graphics. As was the case with the previous two files, I opened the .docx file with the Compatibility Pack, modified it slightly, and saved as it as .docx and .doc. The two files were exactly the same.
Its interesting to note, however, that all of the documents opened in Office 2007 were labeled as being in "compatibility mode." At the top of the file, the file name is displayed with [Compatibility Mode] right next to it, letting users know they are using an earlier format.
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During my tests with Microsoft Excel, I employed the same process described above. I began with a sample Office 2007 spreadsheet that featured a graph. I opened the spreadsheet with the Microsoft Compatibility Pack, modified it slightly, and then saved it in .xls and .xlsx formats.
I opened both files in Office 2007 and was impressed by the file conversion fidelity. But there were interesting prompts that sprang up in Excel that didnt in Word. When I closed out of either a .doc or .docx file in Word 2007, the file simply closed. In Excel 2007, opening the modified.xls spreadsheet was just like opening any old spreadsheet. But when I closed the .xls file, I was asked, "Do you want to save the changes to MODIFIED.Bewertungsmatrix.DE.XLS?" (the file I was testing). I did, so I clicked "yes." A pop-up in Excel 2007 then informed me that Excel 2007 "recalculates formulas when opening files last saved by an earlier version of Excel."
Closing out of the modified .xlsx spreadsheet simply prompted "Do you want to save the changes you made to MODIFIED.Bewurtungsmatrix.DE.XLSX?" When I clicked "yes," the questions stopped there, which makes sense since .xlsx isnt an earlier version of Excel.
I opened two other Excel 2007 spreadsheets using the Compatibility Pack, modified them, and saved them as .xls and .xlsx. Neither contained formulas, so the prompt I ran into with the first spreadsheet I tested did not appear. File conversion fidelity on both of these documents was excellent.
Finally, I took a sample 2007 PowerPoint Presentation packed with text and images, graphics, headers and footers, opened it using the Compatibility Pack, made a few modifications, and then saved the presentation in .ppt and .pptx formats. The results mirrored the file conversion successes I saw with both the Excel and Word files.
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