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Wednesday, 25 June 2008 07:36

Microsoft delivers Open XML updates for Mac Office but no ODF support

The introduction of Office 2007 brought a wave of document compatibility issues for users of Office 2004, but Microsoft has at last delivered a non-beta version of its Open XML File Format Converter for Mac. And while ODF support has been promised for Office 2007 SP2, there's no sign of it for Office 2008.

The converter has been released alongside extensive updates for Office 2004 and 2008.

If the converter is installed, the 11.5.0 update for Office 2004 can take advantage of it to read and write Open XML documents (typically created by Office 2007 or 2008).

Filetypes supported by the converter are .docx, .docm, .xlsx, .xlsb, .xlsm, .xltx, .xltm, .xlam, .pptx, .pptm, .potx, .potm, .ppsx and .ppsm.

Notable by their absence are .dotx and .dotm.

The converter package also contains a selection of fonts supplied with Office 2007 - Cambria, Calibri, Consolas, Constantia, Corbel and Candara - but it seems they are only installed if Office 2004 is present.

If a beta version of the converter has previously been installed on a particular computer, it should be updated to version 1.0 before Office 2004 is updated to version 11.5.0 or later.

The conversion is not without its limitations. Top of the list is "Word 2007 Equation objects are not preserved," which could be a real bummer for technical users. Still, they're no worse off than they were before the converter was released.

If you do run into problems, check the (extensive) list of known issues in Information about how to work with Open XML Format files in Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac.

What else does the Office 2004 update do for you? See page 2.

There are the always-popular stability improvements. Notably, it fixes problems that could cause Word 2004 on Mac OS X 10.5 to quit when doing something as innocuous as creating a new document, printing, or using print preview.

Several fixes address compatibility issues previously occurring when documents created in Office 2007 or 2008 are opened in Office 2004, or when data is pasted between Office 2008 and 2004 documents.

The 11.5.0 update incorporates all previous updates for Office 2004, so there are no problems with prerequisites. However, this does result in a hefty 59M download.

Turning to Office 2008, the 12.1.1 update provides (you guessed it!) stability improvements as well as fixes for specific issues.

In particular, it overcomes a widely encountered problem delivered by Office 2008 SP1 that prevented the opening of some Word and Excel documents (most commonly those downloaded from a web site) by double-clicking in the Finder.

Items in Notebook Layout are now correctly preserved when a .docx file is subsequently saved as a .doc file or opened with the standalone Open XML Converter.

PowerPoint benefits from a change that speeds the opening of presentations containing certain fonts, while Entourage users should no longer crash when the system wakes from sleep.

I frequently use sleep while Entourage is running, and I've never encountered that problem. I'm just hoping Microsoft has been able to make Entourage preserve the scroll position during sleep - if you leave a window halfway down a mailbox list, it's annoying to wake the Mac and find yourself back at the top.

You'll find Microsoft's full description of the update here.

If you thought 59M was a lot for the Office 2004 update, take a deep breath before downloading 153M for Office 2008.

Now, what about ODF? Please read on.

While Office 2004 users will no doubt welcome the simplification of working with Open XML documents created by colleagues and friends wielding Office 2007 or 2008, Microsoft's efforts to make Open XML an ISO standard left a nasty taste in some mouths. There were suggestions of "irregularities" in the voting process in some countries.

ODF - Open Document Format - is held up by its widespread supporters as a truly open standard for office-style documents. Microsoft's efforts to gain ISO standardisation for Open XML were interpreted as a reaction against moves by some governments to mandate the use of software that supports open standard formats to prevent lock-in to a particular vendor.

InfoWorld recently quoted Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee as telling the Red Hat Summit "ODF has clearly won". McKee was referring to Microsoft's decision to add ODF support to Office 2007 in Service Pack 2, planned for 2009. There has been no indication yet that Office 2008 will also gain such support at some stage.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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