Should you switch to the Office 2007 file format?

Are the benefits of the Open XML file format in Microsoft Office 2007 significant enough to make switching a high priority? Consider your businesses' needs.

When Microsoft released Office 2007, it eliminated its decade-old file format and adopted a new, XML-based format as the default format for Office documents. Although some time has passed since the release, the majority of Microsoft Office users still use the legacy file format.

There are certain benefits to the Open XML format; however none are significant enough to make switching a high priority. It is best to rely on your individual businesses' needs when deciding whether you should change.

Office 2007's Open XML format benefits

The biggest benefit of the Open XML format is that it is more resilient to corruption than the legacy file format: If a minor corruption occurs in the new file format, you will likely still be able to open the file.

Another advantage is that documents are automatically compressed. According to Microsoft, an Open XML document can be up to 75% smaller. While at first this may not seem like a big deal, in the long run it means less disk space is needed to store Microsoft Office documents. In addition, a smaller file size means documents are less likely to exceed email attachment limitations.

Furthermore, the Open XML format is more secure than the legacy file format. This is partially because documents in the new version cannot contain VBA or XML macros, which sometimes include malicious code. (You can still use macros with Office 2007, but Office documents containing macros must be saved in a special file format that uses a dedicated file extension designed to convey that the file contains macros.) Also, by using the Document Inspector in the Open XML format it is easier to strip personal information from documents, including the author name, comments, file paths and tracks changes.

To switch or not to switch?

At first I was apprehensive about using the Open XML format because I worried Microsoft would discontinue the format in the next version of Office and I would be left with documents I could not open. However, it appears Microsoft is committed to the XML-based file format.

Before you switch though, it is important to consider how the new file format will impact your business.

For example, although I have had Office 2007 since before its official release, I still save all my documents in the old file format because many of my editors use legacy versions of Microsoft Office.

On the other hand, if everyone in your organization is using Office 2007 then making the Open XML format the standard -- at least internally – is reasonable. In this situation, users would only have to save certain documents in the legacy format when they are sending them to the outside world.

If you decide to use the Open XML format, I recommend keeping existing documents in their native formats since there may be problems during the conversion process. This is especially true of documents created with older versions of Microsoft Office. For example, this post outlines which features in Excel 2002 spreadsheets will be retained and which will be lost if the spreadsheet is converted to the Open XML format.



Brien M. Posey, MCSE
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Exchange Server, and has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.


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