SolutionBase: Make Office XP and Office 2003 compatible with Office 2007's new Open XML format

Office 2007 will introduce many new features, including a new file format. Here's how to make older versions of Office read the new Office 2007 Open XML format.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

One of Office 2007's many new features includes a new file format. Microsoft has long had a reputation of creating a new version of Office with new incompatible file formats that require users to upgrade. In this article, I'll show you how to use Office 2007 files on previous versions of Microsoft's suite.

What's Open XML?

One of the greatest challenges that organizations face when sharing files is making sure that documents and data is presented consistently. Even though Microsoft Office has a domineering market share, it's not at 100%. Many organizations use other word processing and spreadsheet programs than those created by Microsoft.

Most of Office's competitors are designed to open Office-generated files, but many times formatting and special settings may be lost. To overcome that problem, Microsoft created the Open XML format. Open XML is supposed to use generic text along with the XML language to help present data in a consistent way. Theoretically, an item saved in Microsoft Word on an XP workstation will look the exactly same if it's opened up under Mac OS X with another word processing program--assuming that program also supports Open XML.

OpenOffice 2.0 solved this problem by using the OpenDoc (ODF) format. OpenDoc was submitted as an ISO standard and is used by several office suite makers. Rather than implement OpenDoc, Microsoft was already far along in creating Open XML and submitted it independently as a standard format.

Open XML will be Office 2007's standard format for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It produces smaller file sizes than the old default file formats for prior versions of these applications and should go a long way to easing the presentation problems.

By now you're probably familiar with the extensions for Office documents: .doc for Word, .xls for Excel, and .ppt for PowerPoint. These extensions will change as follows:

  • .docm - Word 2007 macro-enabled document
  • .docx - Word 2007 document
  • .potm - PowerPoint 2007 macro-enabled template
  • .potx - PowerPoint 2007 template
  • .ppsm - PowerPoint 2007 macro-enabled show
  • .ppsx - PowerPoint 2007 show
  • .pptm - PowerPoint 2007 macro-enabled presentation
  • .pptx - PowerPoint 2007 presentation
  • .xlam - Excel 2007 add-in
  • .xlsb - Excel 2007 binary workbook
  • .xlsm - Excel 2007 macro-enabled workbook
  • .xlsx - Excel 2007 workbook
  • .xltm - Excel 2007 macro-enabled template
  • .xltx - Excel 2007 template

Open XML presents a bit of a headache for users of older Office products such as Office XP and Office 2003. These products don't support Open XML. Therefore, you can't send an Office 2007 document to someone who's running Office 2003 in Open XML format.

The Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack to the rescue!

To help solve this problem, Microsoft created some filters for older Office products that will help them load Open XML. Together they're called the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack. The Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack works with Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003. For now, users of older versions of Microsoft Office are out of luck.

Author's Note

As of the time of this article, the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack is only in Beta format as is Office 2007. The details of this article are going to revolve around Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack Beta 2.

Office 2003 and Office XP users have the most flexibility when it comes to transferring files the pack. They can fully import and export files into their programs with the pack. Office 2000 users face a few limitations however. Office 2000 users can directly read and write to Office 2007 files with no problems. However, you can't write to an Excel 2007 file from inside of Excel 2000 nor can you write to a PowerPoint 2007 presentation from inside of PowerPoint 2000. You must right-click the file from Explorer and covert the file using the Save As command. Both older programs can read the new file formats after installing the filter however.

You can get the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack by going to Microsoft's Web site. There just download the version of the file that's appropriate for your Language localization. For this article, I'm going to choose the English version.

The file you'll download, O2007Cnv.exe, is about 27Mb, so it may take some time to download. Save it to a temporary file on your workstation, and then run it to install the pack. There are no real gotchas to watch for during the installation process. The pack installs using a basic Windows installer program.

Make sure your version of Office is up to date before installing the pack. You'll need the following updates before installation:

Additionally, the pack only runs on Windows 2000 Professional SP 4, Windows XP SP1 or better, and Windows Server 2003. If you're still running Windows 98, you're out of luck.

Using the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack

Once you've installed the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, it works just like every other format in Office. To save a file in the Office 2007 format, click File | Save As. Select the appropriate Office 2007 file format as shown in Figure A and click OK. The file saves normally.

Figure A

You can save Office 2007 files inside of Office 2003 like any other format.

Likewise, to open a file, there's nothing fancy you have to do. Double-click the Office 2007 file and your document will load inside of your older version.

Changing the default format

If you want to change the default file format for your application to an Office 2007, you can do so within each application. The exact directions will vary depending on the version of Office you're using but for Office 2003, it goes as follows:

  • Word: Click Tools | Options. Select the Save tab. Select Word 2007 Document from the Save Word Files As drop-down list box. Click OK.
  • Excel: Click Tools | Options. Select the Transition tab. Select Excel "12" Workbook from the Save Excel Files As drop-down list box. Click OK.
  • PowerPoint: Click Tools | Options. Select the Save tab. Select PowerPoint "12" Presentation from the Save PowerPoint Files As drop-down list box. Click OK.