Office Hours: Why you should care about file formats

Gray Knowlton May 28, 2007

Gray Knowlton

People don't always work together smoothly, but in this week's Office Hours column, Gray Knowlton tells you how you can get various version of Office to play nice. Now all versions can get into the game.

Applies to
Microsoft Office Excel 2007
Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007
Microsoft Office Word 2007

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We exchange documents all the time, whether in paper form, over email or through some portal or web page. But how can you be sure that everyone can open them? Between PDF, XPS, Open XML, RTF, ASCII and other file formats, you now have a wealth of options to choose from when you want to share content with other people. When you want to get information to someone else, all you have to do is choose the format you want, and presto — instant collaboration. The choices you have will make it much easier to ensure the people on the other end can read your documents.

In fact, Microsoft has been working on its file formats to make sure that even more applications can read and write them than ever before. Over the past few months you've probably seen some new documents for Office that have new extensions. Instead of ".doc" they are ".docx" now; PowerPoint and Excel also have new file formats, ".pptx" and ".xlsx" respectively.

What are these new formats and why did this change?

These new file formats are called the Open XML Formats. They are open file formats that any program can use, and make it much easier for other programs can read and write them the same way Microsoft Office does. This makes it easier to exchange documents with other people, and helps other programs and users know that whatever is in your Microsoft Office files can be shared more easily with other programs.

What's also great is that these new files are much smaller. In Word, for example, you'll notice that these files are almost HALF the size of the .doc files. They are compressed, so the file sizes are much smaller, making for friendlier email attachments. They are also less vulnerable to corruption: If you've ever had a case where you couldn't open a document that didn't survive the email process, these new file formats are much better at recovery; damaged files can still be opened, and the data can still be saved. Both of these features are a boon to users who work with a lot of important files.

How do we use these new formats?

If you are using 2007, chances are you are ALREADY using these new formats; they are ready to use right out of the box. If you use Office 2000, XP or 2003, there is one step you need to take: Add the Compatibility Pack. It's a free download you can install, and it allows 2000, XP or 2003 to use these new file formats. When you get one of these new files, you can install the compatibility pack, and it will allow you to work with it just like any other file. More than 4 million people have already downloaded the compatibility pack, so the word is spreading. Are you compatible? Have you installed the compatibility pack?

About the author

Gray Knowlton is the Group Product Manager for the Office Client Technical Product Management team. Gray has also engaged on product management topics for Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office InfoPath, and the Open XML Formats. Prior to joining Microsoft, Gray has held various product management, system engineering and other technical roles at leading desktop software companies, and integrated solution providers for large-scale news organizations.

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Applies to:
Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Word 2007