Microsoft Office 2007: New file formats and Mac users

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
December 6th, 2006 • 11:09 am

Some thing never change. Once again, Microsoft treats Mac OS X users like second-class citizens and tries to put a positive spin on it by saying that everything is OK, as if that was sufficient to make it so.

The story is pretty simple. Office 2007 applications are now available for Windows, and some businesses are going to start using them. By default, these new applications use new XML-based file formats, which are not backwards compatible. In other words, if you save a document in Word 2007 for Windows, by default it will be in a new file format (with the “.docx” file extension) that previous versions of Office for Windows and current and previous versions of Office for Mac OS X cannot read.

Of course, Microsoft knew that Office 2007 users would need to be able to exchange their Office files with other users using previous versions of Office, so they have made a “compatibility pack” available to users of Office 2003 for Windows. This compatibility pack enables them to open Office 2007 files directly. And Microsoft made sure that this compatibility pack would be available to users of Office 2003 for Windows as soon as Office 2007 became available.

What about users of Office for Mac OS X?

Simply put, they’ll just have to wait. It was just too hard for the MacBU to come up with a “compatibility pack” (i.e. a file format converter) in time for the launch of Office 2007. They are now using the same old excuses to justify this: Office 2007 file formats were not finalized, they were busy moving their code base to the Intel platform, etc.

And of course, since they would never admit that they are in the wrong and apologize to their users, they are accusing Mac-oriented web sites that are complaining about this situation of being “alarmists” and of trying to “inflame [rather] than inform”—as if the fact that Mac OS X users currently do not have any way to read and write files in the Office 2007 format is not, well, a fact.

It is a fact, I am afraid, and asking Mac OS X users to kindly ask their colleagues to down-convert their Office 2007 files to the Office 2003 file formats before sharing them is simply unacceptable. Everybody knows that it’s going to be an inconvenience, that it’s going to infuriate users, waste time, etc. And of course, because Mac OS X users are a minority, they are the ones who will be automatically blamed by other users for any such problems—not Microsoft itself.

Microsoft knows this very well. But Microsoft doesn’t care, because Mac OS X are second-class citizens. Windows users get their file converters right away, but Mac users will have to wait a few months. Why? Because Microsoft has other priorities. It’s the same old story.

On the one hand, they keep gloating about the fact that they are the biggest Mac software developer outside of Apple itself. On the other hand, they always complain about being too busy coping with internal things (compatibility with Mac standards, compatibility with Mac hardware) that end users have no interest in and that would only have taken a fraction of the time and resources required if Microsoft had ever bothered to clean up their act and write decent, compatible, streamlined, hardware-independent code to begin with.

But no… They have “millions” of lines of code that they have to painstakingly convert and it’s taking them forever to do so and they can’t do anything else during that time. And of course, who’s going to foot the bill in the end?

Some things will never change. Microsoft is one of those things. My contempt for them is another one. The only half-decent Mac product that they ever shipped was Internet Explorer 5—for a couple of years back in the late 1990s. That is it. All the rest is, has always been, and will always be complete and utter crap—and we’ll continue to have to deal with it on a daily basis for the foreseeable future.

3 Responses to “Microsoft Office 2007: New file formats and Mac users”

  1. Fireball1244 says:

    IE 5 was the only good product? What about Word 5.1? That was a fantastic early 1990s word processor.

  2. Simanek says:

    Well, you’re right about that. Have you looked into NeoOffice yet? It is OpenOffice running on Java. I’ve been using it at work for the last 6 months and it interacts perfectly with MOffice. It does not support ‘docx’ yet, but it does open and save ‘odt’ or the OpenDocument format. You can customize the default format to your liking as well. I personally think it is a much better UI than Microsoft Office 2004 for OSX.

    I’m curious to hear what you think of it.

    Also, have you checked out Path Finder by Cocoa Tech? I know how much you loathe the Finder. You can try it for 20 days or something. I got it yesterday and it’s very impressive. If only Apple would simply buy it and throw away the current finder. I am just about to give them $34 just to use it on my work machine. I’d love to hear your opinion on that as well. Perhaps you could point out a few issues that I am overlooking.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Fireball1244: Sorry, I don’t subscribe to that line of thought. I have been a Mac Word user since version 3.0, and I don’t remember ever feeling that Word 5 was such a great product. Of course, it was way better than Word 6 (which was probably the worst version ever), but it still had numerous obvious flaws typical of a Microsoft product.

    Simanek: I do have NeoOffice on my computer, and I use it occasionally (mostly to open WordPerfect documents, actually), but I must admit that it’s not a product that I would like to use on a daily basis. But it certainly is quite impressive for a free product as a Word alternative, and I would consider using it more often if it had a more polished and Mac-friendly look/design. It doesn’t work properly with Spell Catcher X, though, which is a big no-no for me.

    I actually find myself using Pages quite a bit, as long as I feel reasonably confident that when I export the final product as a Word document, it will look good for my Office for Windows user client. There are quite a few situations where this works just fine. In other cases, however, I still have to use Word.

    I tried PathFinder a long time ago, when it was still very much a work-in-progress. I haven’t tried it since. Part of the problem these days is that, since I am part of the AppleSeed program, I want to try help improve the Finder, so I kind of need to use it on a daily basis to better identify and report on its flaws :).

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