Office Applications - Office 2013 File Formats (Part 1)

11/20/2012 11:41:14 AM

Think back to the period 2006-9 and you might remember a great hoo-hah about Office file formats that rumbled on for years. Microsoft introduced its Office Open XML (OOXML) file formats DOCX, XLSX and PPTX with Office 2007 and then sought to have them ratified as standards, first by Ecma (formerly known as the European Computer Manufacturers Association) and then by the ISO (the International Standards Organisation).

Many people asked why Microsoft hadn’t just used the existing Open Document Format (ODF) instead of inventing its own. Well, there wasn’t much wrong with ODF except that it couldn’t represent everything in Microsoft Office documents, and back then it didn’t even define the functions you could use in a spreadsheet. Both ODF and OOXML are based on zipped XML text, making OOXML in particular far smaller and more robust than the old binary formats of DOC, XLS and PPT.

Description: Description: Description: Office 2013

Steering OOXML through ECMA wasn’t too much of a problem for Microsoft, but ISO standardisation was far more difficult. ISO insisted that all the “legacy” features in OOXML such as the options that said “lay out the document like Word 95”, without defining what that was should be corralled together with the intention of phasing them out. Thus the Office Open XML file formats became an ISO standard in two flavours, Transitional and Strict and neither Office 2007 nor 2010 could save in the Strict format since their internals still relied on some of those legacy features. Office 2010 could, however, open Strict Open XML files created by other applications, not that there were any mainstream applications that could write them. But the standard was published so that anyone could write an application that would create files in that format.

Now, with the impending release of Office 2013, you’ll be able to use Office to open and save Strict Open XML files as defined in ISO standard 29600. Their file extensions will remain the same DOCX, XLSX, PPTX and so on – and the Strict format will not be the default format out of the box. That will still offer a choice between Transitional Open XML and Open Document Format, but the ODF flavour will now be ODF 1.2. Providing ODF 1.2 gives better compatibility between Microsoft Office and Open Office or Libre Office but, perversely, worse compatibility between Office 2013 and 2010 or 2007 when using ODF files. Office 2007 and 2010 can save to only ODF 1.1 and can’t open ODF 1.2, but Office 2013 can’t save to ODF 1.1. This makes editing an ODF document in Office 2013 a one-way trip, since once it’s saved in ODF 1.2 format, you can’t then use it in Office 2007 or 2010.

Microsoft supported ODF 1.2 and its standardisation through OASIS, particularly in its definition of the functions used in its spreadsheets. Until ODF 1.2, they were left to individual companies writing the applications that used the ODF 1 and 1.1 formats, meaning that spreadsheets that were nominally saved in the same file format were in effect incompatible, because competing applications could read their data but none of their formulae. ODF 1 is an ISO standard, but virtually no applications use it. ODF 1.2 is expected to be put forward for ISO ratification shortly; meanwhile, work on ODF continues, including adding change tracking to its specification.

“ISO insisted that all ‘legacy’ features in OOXML should eventually be phased out”

Description: Description: Description: Office 2013 can now save and open Strict OOXML documents, and its ODF support moves up to version 1.2

Office 2013 can now save and open Strict OOXML documents, and its ODF support moves up to version 1.2

Which Office versions can Open and Save what file formats?

File formats:

Binary format: DOC, XLS, PPT

Office 97: Open/Save

Office 2000: Open/Save

Office XP: Open/Save

Office 2003: Open/Save

Office 2007: Open/Save

Office 2010: Open/Save

Office 2013: Open/Save

Transitional Open XML: DOCX, XLSX, PPTX

Office 2000: Open/Save (Require a free Compatibility Pack)

Office XP: Open/Save (Require a free Compatibility Pack)

Office 2003: Open/Save (Require a free Compatibility Pack)

Office 2007: Open/Save

Office 2010: Open/Save

Office 2013: Open/Save


Office 2010: Open

Office 2013: Open/Save


Office 2007: Open/Save

Office 2010: Open/Save

Office 2013: Open


Office 2013: Open/Save


Office 2007: Save

Office 2010: Save

Office 2013: Open (Convert)/Save

Compatibility Mode

New users of Office 2007, 2010 and 2013 are often confused by the words “Compatibility Mode” that appear in the application title bar when they open certain documents. A reader named Bonnie recently emailed me as she’d just upgraded to Office 2010: “Not sure what this is but someone mentioned I should change it. I don’t know what it is, nor how to get rid of it? I did look on the internet and found something to try, but it didn’t work. Can you explain to me why I need to change this and if so, how, since I’ve seen this in the title bar of some documents when I open them?”

You’ll see Compatibility Mode whenever you open a document that was saved in Word 97-2003 or Word 2007 format, and it means that not all the features of your version of Word are available to you in that document since they couldn’t be saved in that format. Compatibility Mode is used to ensure that new features of later versions aren’t accidentally introduced into earlier documents, unless you explicitly choose to “upgrade” them. This means that documents created in Word 2007 and before will always display and print correctly in that version of the application, whether or not they’ve been edited in a later version.

If you want to use newer features, or take advantage of the reduced file size or increased robustness of a new format, then click File/ Info/ Convert.

Word 2010 DOCX files can be opened by Word 2007 and by Word 2003, 2002 (XP) and 2000 if the user has installed the Compatibility Pack, which has been available since late 2006, so there shouldn’t be any problems if you do decide to convert a document to Word 2010 format. Plus, you can always use File | Save As to downgrade the document to 97-2003 format again later, if necessary. (Again, this may involve minor layout changes, so it’s best to check the document after converting if you’re worried. Just open the original document and the converted one side by side to do a visual check that everything is legible and where you expect it to be.)

Description: Description: Description: Word 2010 DOCX files can be opened by Word 2007 and by Word 2003, 2002 (XP) and 2000 if the user has installed the Compatibility Pack

Word 2010 DOCX files can be opened by Word 2007 and by Word 2003, 2002 (XP) and 2000 if the user has installed the Compatibility Pack

When you use the Compatibility Pack to open new format documents in older versions of Office, you’ll find that any features introduced in the newer applications will usually be gracefully downgraded to work with the older version: for instance, Smart Art will be replaced by a simple image of what the Smart Art should look like. You can reposition or resize the image using the earlier application, but you can’t edit the individual elements that make up the Smart Art. Usefully, however, when you save your edited document in OOXML format and open it with Office 2007 and above, that Smart Art will become editable in its new position, or at its new size. This is one reason for sticking with the OOXML file formats (DOCX, XLSX, PPTX) and not downgrading them to the older binary file formats; if you do that, the change from Smart Art to a static image becomes permanent.

“PDF files don’t include all the information necessary to recreate an editable document”

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