back to article 'Draconian' Microsoft promises to make Office work again

Microsoft has threatened to release a fix for an Office 2003 update that may well have the productivity suite work as intended once again. As reported earlier Service Pack 3 for Office takes the unprecedented step of barring access to files created with earlier versions of the product. Install the Service Pack and your stash of …


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  1. Tom Cowap

    The German Tourist

    This reminds me of a German tourist in the early 80's who gave out about the state of Irish roads - "Instead of fixing the road you put up signs indicating the road is defective and forget about it".

    With SP3 MS just closed the defective roads.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Open Office Offers Better Compatibility Than Office 2007 SP3 for MsOffice Docs?

    It seems that now the free ooo OpenOffice offers better compatibility for the MS .doc format. Ms 2007 SP3 won't open the files with 'seriously' risking your security, as the flaw lies with the MS code for opening these docs. OpenOffice code is safer ;-)

    Finally Bill Gates has seen the lights as he said he'd retire in 2008, and wisely appointed Emperor Nero to finish the Job

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Chris Cartledge
    Gates Horns

    Open Office recognises formats that M$ has long forgotten

    It may be unreasonable but I occasionally need documents which are 15 or 20 years old. Open Office handles Word for DOS and Write doucments fine, while Word does not even recognise the format...

  5. Sanford Olson

    Why registry hacks?

    I understand that the registry settings are where the settings get stored (and can be handy for businesses using Group Policy), but why not have a screen under Tools->Options so that a user could easily view/change these settings? Microsoft has too many "special" registry hacks that are basically undocumented (okay, some are documented in KB articles, but not all in the same KB article. You usually have to search high and low to figure these things out). Just make an extra tab on the Options screen that allows the user to pick and choose which old versions of files that want to enable. Maybe a two-level thing where the user could choose either "leave me alone", "warn me", or "prevent me" from opening version x.xx of a file.

  6. Dave
    Gates Horns


    well done AC, I bet you feel like a genius?

    Well this is silly, it seems MS have just finally admitted what we all know.. everything they make is utter c**p. An off the record quote from Sir Gates, "Our code is so confused we can't even understand our own file formats, writing code at Redmond is like eating noodles with one chopstick". No really!

  7. Richard Penna

    You really don't care about anything except your 'user concerned' image do you M$


    This is what happens when you geniuses decide that you know better than us how to take care of our computers.

    First class tw@ts.

  8. Mark Fenton

    @The German Tourist

    ...but that is what they now do in England...there are plenty of roads with signs saying "uneven surface" and "danger potholes". least the NHS is safe in this government's hands...


  9. Anonymous Coward

    And this proves...

    Doesn't this just prove that the Office codebase is a complete unmaintainable mess! Are these parsers written in machine code or something? Probably 'or something' in that they're a mass of hacks and fixes.

  10. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Gates Halo

    fish or cut bait

    I'm sure this isn't just another fishing expedition. "Just come to our website and, we'll download a copy of your registry... err, I mean, we'll modify the registry for you."

    What, no rod and reel "gone phishing" icon?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Less secure

    From MS' website :

    By default, these file types are blocked because the parsing code that Office 2003 uses to open and save the file types is less secure. Therefore, opening and saving these file types may pose a risk to you.

    You've been warned: install XP's SP3 only if you're not planning on using your PC any more.

  12. Andy S
    Gates Horns

    another nail in the coffin

    I already have open office installed to try out, the moment I get a message preventing me from opening i file, i'll make the switch permanently, rather than bothering to mess about with the registry. Can MS office open ODF files?

  13. Peter

    And the lawyers said...

    As if that rollback was just out of the sense of right and wrong? Try this on for size, MSFT's lawyers quickly got the picture that if they continued with this path, they'd be facing the wrath of both end users, and more than a few government organizations!

  14. Leo Maxwell

    Maybe MS should just suggest Openoffice as a fix?

    As Office users obviously only want to use "old" formats to prevent them having to use the dog's dinner that is office 2007, maybe MS should start offering OOo as a patch?

    Of course we should all have bought MSO2007 by now, naughty mean old reactionary us.....

  15. Christopher A Light
    Thumb Down

    A redundant fix?

    'The fix will come in the form of a link that you can follow which will hack (sorry, modify) your registry for you so that the problem goes away.'

    Is that REALLY necessary? After all there's a 'Microsoft Office' entry in 'Add or Remove Programes'...

    Or does the Micro$oft fix also include an Open Office installer to finish the job properly?

  16. daniel Silver badge
    Jobs Horns

    finsh the Job

    Should that not be "Finsh the Jobs"?

  17. James Thomas

    Heard of debugging at all?

    Perhaps I'm being naive here - after all I'm a programmer and not a Synergetic Product Solution Manager - but if the problem is in the code that parses the older files, WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST FIX THE CODE?

    Instead they choose to completely break Office. These people are either insane or lying, and since they appear to be telling the truth - they must be lying :)

  18. John
    Gates Horns

    The only vulnerability is ...

    ... to MS profits. Lets face it, word is a glorified typewriter with a spell checker, they got that right with word 97.

    Draconian is the correct word to use, whats to stop them doing this again in 2012, "your Office 2007 product is causing a serious vulnerability to our profits and is deemed unsafe (to future MS operations). Please bend over once again and buy Office 2012."

    I will watch again with dismay as governments and corporations lock themselves into the new format.

  19. Chad H.

    microsoft have listened before!

    I mean, they did get rid of clippy....


  20. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Wiped from the history books

    I'm a digital preservation researcher and this kind of "enhancement" is our worst nightmare.

    If MS had the slightest understanding of the responsibility that comes with providing the software that reads and writes a very large portion of the documents produced in commercial, government, non-profit, and personal work, they would have known ahead of time that rendering potentially millions of documents unreadable in a modern, patched Windows environment is essentially imposing a new, real, and significant cost to the thousands of people for whom accessing these documents is in the critical path for their current and future activities.

    A cost that inevitably will prove too much for some users, some of whom have valuable content which would have been in effect destroyed by MS's original plan (yes, it would be theoretically possible to start up an old machine and open the files, but only if someone has kept the unreadable files around, which I can report to you is pretty much not done with anywhere near the frequency required to avoid real, permanent information loss.)

    As the proprietors of the Office file formats MS should accept the responsibility that comes with the success they've earned by producing widely-used authoring software. *They* should bear the costs of maintaining backwards compatibility. It's their own fault if backwards compatibility leaves security holes *they left in their own software* open, and they have *plenty* of money to spend on backwards compatibility.

    "The lock on the house you bought from us is broken, so we've boarded up the doors and now you will not be allowed back in your house, even to retrieve your belongings."


  21. Dave

    Sorry 'digital preservation researcher'

    I am sorry sir, but I must inform you, there is a reason reg readers often shorten microsoft to M$, they don't give a f**k, they are just a company making money. Its not that they are deliberately screwing you over, not in this instance anyway. The problem here is that M$ office is probably written in about 15 different languages, 10 of which are microsoft specials (e.g. VB, C#, and 'special java') Its more like they can't replace the lock, because to do so would mean excavating the foundations to get to the lock mechanism then reverse engineering said lock which was designed from scratch and hewn from granite by a tibetan monk with no experience of locks who has now found nirvana and didn't leave any documentation.

    So once again it falls on the free beer people... I mean.. free software people to save the world (of 'ICT').

  22. Ishkandar

    @Anonymous Coward - Wiped from the history books

    ....unless you will have to use the Windows !!!

  23. Steven Knox
    Dead Vulture

    "... fixing the problem"?

    No, fixing the problem would be rewriting the crap code, not blocking the file format or forcing users to hack their registry just to be able to use code THAT REMAINS INSECURE!

  24. leslie

    Easy answer

    Dont install office version past 2003, then you can open 2003 format files, dont update, dont hotfix, dont worry..........

    Or like said above, Ooo......

  25. Matt

    Wait, did he say "too?"

    The Microsoft guy said it was "too draconian?"

    Is a little draconian possible? I'd think it would be akin to a little pregnant.

    I'm not trying to have a long discussion about torture over the dunked waterboard here...but is he saying Microsoft has a line they've defined as sufficiently but not too draconian?

    Will a future EULA refer to drawing and quartering? Sigh...let us remember good ole Drako's words...

    "It is said that Drakon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones"

  26. Chris

    A matter of responsibility

    Another matter is what just happened here: M$ has just given the responsibility over to you for using their crap code. You were warned, they wrote it, it is full of holes, but you were told and there's no need to complain afterwards, despite you knowing the code was insecure, you installed the registry hack anyway.

    Sometimes, these guys make me sick.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    2003 is ancient.

    Why are they releasing a SP3 for 2003 Office? Someone should tell M$ it's 2008 now (5 years). Anything 2003 can't be too good anymore anyway.

    P.S. never thought using dates for versions was a good idea. You don't have to be too bright to realise that after the date the product no longer looks up-to-date and the manufacturer is rushed to get something out to update the version number regardless of the products development. Otherwise it's like painting a big sign saying how long it's taking them to get the next new product out. Looks bad for them. Something that isn't apparent with consecutive numbering.

  28. BitTwister

    @The only vulnerability is ...

    > whats to stop them doing this again in 2012

    Oh, they will, they will...

    > governments and corporations lock themselves into the new format.

    Oh, they will, they will...

    The mindless being led by the rapacious.

    @Wiped from the history books

    Nicely, if depressingly put.

    Fortunately the free and cross-platform OpenOffice suite is available with an ISO approved and publically-documented file format. Well, for those who haven't already been wiped from history.

  29. Chris Ellis


    Just goes to proves M$ cannout write code, so remind me why we entrust our computer and lives to them, oh wait a minute I don't



  30. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Thumb Down

    2007 is not worth the upgrade from 2003

    I have found that 2007, aside from being horribly obtuse in its user interface, still maintains a lot of the usability and functionality problems I encounter in 2003. One big for instance, what happens to Outlook when it can't talk to the IMAP server: lock-up, big time, from which it can only sometimes recover.

    And Vista vs XP is not much better. Ever have a removable device attempt to occupy the same drive assignment as a mapped drive? What happened in XP still happens in Vista: the removable drive is inaccessible in favor of the mapped drive, rather than Windows bumping the removable up to an available drive letter.

    And I have not run into this yet, but I bet Vista still has a maximum file length of 255 characters including the path. 8-bit counters in 2007? Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick!!

  31. Maty

    .doc, docx, .wks wtf

    I used to have a misquote from 'The Sixth Sense' on my office wall. It said 'I see dumb people all the time. Most don't even know they are dumb. But they all save their files in .doc format.'

    Unless there is a particular reason for not doing so (e.g. extra-complex formatting), files should be saved in flexible, ultra-compatible .rtf. In a rational world this would be the default format for all documents. I've wasted hours because ignorant users save their letters in microsoft's various progs - works, word X- all with mutually incompatible default formats. I then have to translate these into .rtf, even though the original text was so basic it could easily have been saved as .txt in the first place.

    It's a sad situation with Microsoft churning out generally unnecessary document formats on the one side, gullible and ignorant users on the other, and poor IT staff in between.

  32. lsproc

    @another nail in the coffin

    Err yes, and MS sponsors the project making the plugin.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    "How did they get that data on file opens? Does this mean Office is despatching a notice to MS every time you open a document? What else is sent to Redmond?"

    I would suspect MS would get this sort of data from users who agree to be part of the Customer Experience Improvement Program.

  34. Kirstian K
    Gates Horns

    This is just the start....

    I bet all of you, there will be lots of little proplems like this come out of SP3,

    M$ are on a subtle push to make XP unusable so we all decide that moving to Vista is a good move. i think that is the real reason they brought out SP3. its gonna gradually cripple everything pre Vista.

    Bets please...

  35. JC

    Novel Idea

    Here's a novel idea I'm sure MS would never come up with - Fix the service pack so it is right by default, THEN allow someone to add a reg patch or change an office app menu setting to disable the functionality.

    I'm all for disabling insecure features by default, so long as the app starts out that way, not when it takes away existing core functionality. I also save docs in backwards compatible formats whenever possible because others may do as we do, request someone resend a compatible format when it isn't.

  36. JC

    New Office Button Proposal

    I propose a new standard for interoperability between the user and program. MS Office has has an "undo" button for a long time but now we need a special new [undo - self destruct] button that restores all features and settings to how they were before MS tried to save us from ourselves. The importance of the button versus uninstalling is that some things can't be uninstalled and the new files may have some other bugs fixed without compromising the features.

    I also wanted this button on Media Player for several years. One-click to make it look and act like WMP 6.4, no more and no less, though they missed the boat on that so we now use mostly Media Player Classis instead.

  37. alan buxey
    Dead Vulture

    details microsoft gains

    Peter - have you never sniffed the TCP/IP traffic from a PC when opening

    a document with microsoft office? very enlightening!

  38. Anonymous Coward

    go elsewhere

    i'm not a mac fanboy, anything but, used a few flavours of ubuntu, redhat and suse, but the nicest moment ever on my macbook was when i finally got rid of M$. no more office, no more messenger, no more registry, it was bliss. nothing's perfect, but at least osx doesn't drive me f**king crazy twice a day.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slightly OT but related:- MS are at it with Office 2008 (Mac)

    Microsoft are currently trying to convince the Mac world to update from Office 2004 to 2008 (these Macs are always a year behind Windows:-).

    A feature they're dropping in Office 2008 is VBA support.

    The interesting connection to this discussion is why they're dropping it. They've pretty much confirmed what we all know, the office code is a pile of festering pants and it's nigh on impossible to port to the new Mac "Universal" platform (that's Intel code to the rest of us).

    Hey, that might be why Clippy died: the code strangled him!

  40. Liam Johnson

    @The German Tourist

    There are plenty of road signs in Germany that say exactly the same thing!

  41. Chris Matchett

    @ @The German Tourist

    "There are plenty of road signs in Germany that say exactly the same thing!"

    It's a good thing many German's have a good grasp of the english language then.

    And now @ People who ask why we haven't upgraded to Office 2007 yet: We paid money for 2003 and would have ot pay more money for 2007. While 2003 does what we need (before M$ 'fixed' it) then why would we spend money on the same thing with a fancy UI?

  42. John Angelico

    Borrowing from Sir Humphrey Appleby...

    Microsoft? The intelligence of Winnie the Pooh?

    [Ponders the question] Of course, they *must*.

    [Still pondering] Yes... well, on their day.

    [Puzzled] Umm...? I'm almost sure they do...

  43. Jeff Dickey
    Gates Horns

    Oh, the pain, the pain....

    This really has thrown a large claymore into the works for my clients, who are interested in transitioning away from MSFT in various gradual/stepwise ways; the earlier comment quoting an enterprise customer who said "Excel without VBA is useless" had it spot on from an enterprise perspective. My clients are coming to understand just how tightly they have bound themselves to Microsoft, the lack of control over their own business processes that that implies, and the pain involved when (perfectly logical and reasonable from MS' standpoint) decisions get made that impact how the customer has Always Done Things.

    This tends to provoke one of two reactions: companies go back to the warm embrace (around the neck?) of the Microsoft Collective; or, companies basically say "my God, how did we ever get in this deep? Let's make DAMNED sure we don't let any vendor lead us by the short-and-curlies again!' The first group, I can't do anything for; they have knowingly put themselves entirely and exclusively under the control of an outside vendor, with no recourse. The second group tend to be quite successful in their business - no doubt in large part because they have a greater commitment to understanding and controlling the processes by which they do business.

    My feeling is that we're at an evolutionary tipping point both for Mac folks and for business IT in general. If the Mac is going to sustain any kind of push into general business use at all, office-type applications that can interoperate with their Windows colleagues is absolutely essential; without it, Macs will be, at best, adjuncts to the main business running on Vistoy. The only real alternative is for companies to leave the Microsoft Office collective altogether in favor of the open-source systems or alternative commercial packages like SoftMaker or StarOffice... and why would they particularly need Macs then?

    Lots of conspiracy theorists are latching onto this as yet another way for Microsoft to stick it to Apple. While that is undeniably the effect, I think the motive is much more likely akin to "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence and/or shortsightedness." Which describes my experiences working at Microsoft, and with Microsoft, perfectly.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Maty: RTF

    You're thinking along the right lines but RTF isn't the answer - it has at least 10 versions (see

    Use a real standard, not an M$ invention and subsequent bastardisation of a standard: ISO/IEC 26300:2006 aka ODF.

  45. regadpellagru
    Paris Hilton

    OOXML and MS credibility

    Would have been interesting to question Shaffner on how cool this complete debacle could impact MS credibility on OOXML ...

    It seems to me noone is too enthusiast at letting the whole thing be proprietary, and probably even less at being the property of a bunch of nutwits unable to find the sources of the parser to fix a critical bug ?

    PH icon here, because of the word "nutwit" ;-)

  46. Britt Johnston

    Conversions - keeping the shipwreck afloat

    I'm not sure there is a single best solution on how to keep information current across a change in format.

    In the doc-bound Pharma industry I work for, the biggest overkill I can recall was an complete emulation of a green-screen ERP system after it was replaced by a blue-screen one. It was used, but keeping the old one running as a zombie would have been much easier, as would a transfer of the historical records.

    With the demise of mainframes at the end of the last millenium, we made a complete copy of the old central product database* on CD, and as a paper dump. Only the catalogues were ever consulted.

    Just in case, we kept a copy of the new database on a laptop, too. This turned out to be one of the better value Y2K ideas, since although it was never used, the programmer who did the port got to keep the laptop once January had faded into history.

    A most interesting commercial idea (for Adobe) is to convert everything to PDFs. If you want e-access to the content, you could always scan it in and convert to a current office document, just like today.

    I concur with anonymous coward; RTF was never considered for such solutions.

    * actually there were two, since we were just mopping up after a merger. Here Y2K was a great help.

  47. Chester Taggart

    Remember the Word 95 -> Word 97 compatibility issues?

    Been there, done that....

    Oh, and how many of us work where security policies prohibit changing the registry?

    Where is WordStar when you need it??

  48. Bill Coleman

    Is OO really an enterprise level alternative though?

    Where Office wins over OO is the programmability. The combined power and flexibility of MS Access and Excel in the hands of a competent VBA developer with a full set of compatible COM objects for just about every 3rd party ap in the world, is as yet unmatched in the OO world. I'm sorry, but it's true. In fact there is no real Open source alternative to Access at all, full stop. (first person to shout mySQL will be impaled on a big spike while their famalies are forced to watch - now THAT's true Draconianisim)

    ...of course, that's not to say that Office isn't a mangled piece of bloatware - it is. The only positive part of it is the Access Jet engine, which they bought and have been steadily mangling since 97.

    But, seriously guys - keep it in perspective. If the OO propeller heads had put half as much in to developing a quality programming framework around the suite as they put into blowing their own trumpets, it would be game set and match!

  49. Test Man

    Re:New Office Button Proposal

    You DO know WMP since ver 7 has a "Classic" skin... obviously not.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    One step further

    Much as I admire the lazy-ass programming abilities (we all aspire to being able to do that at work really), I'm now waiting for XP/Vista to take this step as the ultimate in virus/malware protection "for your security needs, Windows no longer allows the opening of any files or application".

    Think about it, it could work! No more viruses or spyware. The security-conscious user's nirvana... Fingers crossed for this to be part of XP SP3 and Vista SP1.

    (where's the tongue-in-cheek icon?...)

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Not to be snooty but....

    I bitched and wined about this weeks and weeks ago...... here on this very site... in comments just like these......

    And I belive I also posted a fix.... o'well there you go... nobody reads these comments... (not even me 'shhhh').


  52. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns


    Customer Experience Improvement Program

    doesn't that have the ring of orwellian doublethink about it... with a touch of the diabolical?

    "here tell us what frustrates you about windows, and we'll make sure it does it better"

    bought to you by M$ the ministry of software (newspeak: minisoft.... sorry microsoft)

    war is peace

    freedom is slavery

    ignorance is strength

    windows is good

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Office 2000

    Still working fine thanks.

  54. Anonymous Coward

    MS Office insecure by nature

    As a consultant of many years, I always try to stick to official standards.

    It is scary what clout M$ still has in the UK! when ever I send my CV to an agency, I always send it as an ODF. After all it is an ISO standard.

    in many cases I get an email back saying, that they can't do anything with the file format, only to get the questions from me, if they don't support ISO standards?

    It may just a drop in the ocean, but my contribution to getting away from this broken file format called MS Word or even OOXML.

    If more of my "colleagues" did this, I am sure we could slowly but surely arrive at a format, which is completely and openly documented.

    P.S. I am not completely anti M$, they do have some good products and programs, like solitair, and calc, but unfortunately already notepad is broken in some instances. ;-)

  55. Matt Hawkins
    Thumb Down

    Hello Open Office

    I've got plenty of old documents I would still expect to be able to open in the future. If M$ think this is unreasonable I guess Office 2003 SP2 is the last M$ office product I will use.

    OO gets better and better while Office ... well .... doesn't.

    Plus you can run Open Office from a USB stick.

  56. Patabugen

    re: VERY interesting statement..

    "How did they get that data on file opens? Does this mean Office is despatching a notice to MS every time you open a document? What else is sent to Redmond?"

    It's called the "Customer Experience Improvement Program", It's that thing that people generally opt-out of and then complain that MS ignore thier needs.

  57. Abdul Alhazred

    Windows 98 rocks!

    And yes you can run Open Office with Java 1.5.0 on it, provided you have enough physical memory.

  58. Luke Wells

    Windows 2000 / Office 2000

    So are we the only large business still using Windows 2000 and Office 2000 on all our computers?

    Most of the users probably only use 1% of the features of office 2000 so what on earth does 2003/2007 have to offer other than headaches and problems?

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