Google Docs Drops Export Support for Old Microsoft Office Formats

Google Docs users who still use older versions of Microsoft Office will have to update their office suites with Microsoft's Compatibility Pack. Here's how customers will be affected.

The Google Docs built-in exporting feature that allows users to export Docs files into Microsoft Office will only support the latest Microsoft Office file formats starting Oct. 1, which could cause potential file export hassles for users who still use older 1997 to 2003 versions of Office.

The change will only relate to the use of the Google Docs file exports, however, meaning that users will 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 built-in file export changes mean that files ending in older Office formats, including .doc, .xls and .ppt, will have to be converted into the latest Microsoft Office formats, including .docx, .xlsx and .pptx, before they can be exported to other Office users.

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 modern Microsoft Office suites.

The older .doc, .xls and .ppt formats dated back to Microsoft Office 1997 to 2003.

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 using their older Office versions.

But 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 will 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.

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

So why is Google making the change, and what does all of this mean for users?

"If you take it at face value, it makes a lot of sense," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst for Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC). "Google is saying that they can't support everything, including file formats going back to Office 2003, which are now a decade old."

For users, though, that's a problem because there are still plenty of people and businesses out there that are using old versions of Office, which will mean file compatibility hassles and headaches. "This could greatly inconvenience some users," said DiDio.

"What struck me as odd or disingenuous about this move is that the mainstream or non-Microsoft formats are still being supported by Google," including ODF, HTML, text and JPG, she said. "So clearly this is a move for Google to try and expand and extend their reach and move people away from Microsoft" by making file exports more complicated for users. "The people who are going to get hurt are the users," even with the availability of a compatibility pack to make older files readable using the new formats.

"This is Google saying to people 'OK, we've reached the fork in the road. Come over to us. Abandon Office for Google Docs instead of using your traditional desktop office applications,'" said DiDio. "Google has forced the issue."

For corporate users, that will be a tough decision to ponder, she said. "In a corporate environment, you need support and documentation and the fact of the matter is that Google does not have the technical service and support ecosystem that Microsoft does. This is where you have to start looking at the fine print."

With the file support changes, Google is working to try to gain more market share and customer traction for its Google Docs offerings, said DiDio. "They're absolutely trying to get more traction," she said. "If I were Google, this is exactly what I would do, too. This is very much marketing-driven."