Google Delays End of Export Support for Old Microsoft Office Formats

Google Docs customers were apparently not happy about file export changes that were announced in September, so Google has extended the timeframe for customers to continue to export their Docs files into old Microsoft Office formats until Jan. 31.

In late September, Google Docs announced plans to stop allowing users to save and export their Google Docs-created files using older 1997 to 2003 Microsoft Office file formats as of Oct. 1. But those plans have now been delayed until Jan. 31, 2013 due to complaints from users that they weren't given enough time to make the transition.

"Surprised how many of you want to stay on Office 2003 and use Docs to interoperate," wrote Amit Singh, vice president of enterprise at Google, in an Oct. 10 post on Google+. "We are extending support for export .doc files till January to help this transition."

The Google Docs built-in exporting feature allows users to directly export Docs files into Microsoft Office using formats recognized by Office. Google Docs had planned, however, to stop allow file exports using the older formats supported by Microsoft Office versions from 1997 through 2003. Google was trying to transition Google Docs users to only do file exports directly to newer versions of Microsoft Office.

The proposed changes will only relate to the use of the Google Docs file exports, however, meaning that users would still be able to import Microsoft Office files of any format into Google Docs on their own, according to a Sept. 26 post on the Google Apps Blog. The move is being touted by Google as a way to make it easier for Docs users to be able to export their Google Docs files into the latest Microsoft Office formats automatically for easier transfers with users of later editions of the Microsoft Office suite.

The built-in file export changes mean that files ending in older 1997 to 2003 Office formats, including .doc, .xls and .ppt, would have to be converted into the latest Microsoft Office formats, including .docx, .xlsx and .pptx, before they can be exported from Google Docs to Microsoft Office users.

Users of older Microsoft Office versions from 1997 to 2003 are being urged by Google to download and install Microsoft's free Office Compatibility Pack, which will allow them to be able to open the newer .docx, .xlsx and .pptx file formats and maintain compatibility with older Office versions.

But despite the availability of conversion capabilities for their old Office files, customers weren't thrilled about the coming changes, at least not with less than a week's notice. Google Docs announced the planned move on Sept. 25.

"We recognize that some of our customers would like more time before the change goes into effect," stated an Oct. 9 post from the company on its Google Apps Blog. "As you may have noticed, that change did not go into effect on October 1. In order to support our customers and help them through the transition, we have delayed the export format change for scheduled release track customers until January 31, 2013."

While Google Docs is dropping support for the export of older Office formats, it will still maintain support for other existing file formats, including OpenDocument formats, plain text, JPG images and PDFs, according to Google.

The changes, even with their Jan. 31 delay, will still likely make it more complicated for Google Docs users to share files with users of older 1997 to 2003 versions of Office. That problem, of course, has arisen for Office users every time Microsoft has changed its file formats, all in the name of progress, over the years. New Office formats always stress usability improvements, but make it more complicated to transfer files when different users run different versions of Office.

Google's schedule change gives customers several extra months to figure out how to cope with the changes.

The latest Office formats, .docx, .xlsx and .pptx, are based on HTML, which wasn't supported under the 1997 to 2003 file formats.