Microsoft hoses user data - again!

Update final (I hope) I mistakenly overstated the breadth of Microsoft's changes with SP3. I've struck out the incorrect data below.

Update final (I hope) I mistakenly overstated the breadth of Microsoft's changes with SP3. I've struck out the incorrect data below. See also my mea culpa here.

Update title to: Microsoft hoses user data - again! For most users the Office SP3 means that they won't be able to recover their old documents. They won't know to install Open Office, access Microsoft support or edit the registry. But bowing to complaints that the data is not literally "destroyed" I'm updating the title here. But anyone who doesn't think that most users will be baffled and hurt by this doesn't know many average users. End update.

Will Microsofties ever learn? Without warning the Microsoft Office SP3 update blocks over a dozen common document formats, including many Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents. Install the update and you can't open the files. Why? Because they can!

We don't care. We don't have to. What's affected? Powerpoint formats prior to PowerPoint 97. Excel formats prior to Office 2003. Lotus, Quatro and Corel Draw. And the following Word formats:

  • Word 11 saved by Word 12
  • Word 4.x, 5.x, 6.0, 98, 2001, X and 2004 for Macintosh.
  • Word 1.x, 2.x, 6.0, 95, 97, 9, 10 and 11 for Windows
  • Any older formats

Trust us. It is for your own good. Microsoft forthrightly explains why in article 938810 buried deep in the support section of their web site:

By default, these file formats are blocked because they are less secure. They may pose a risk to you.

So no whining, peasants.

Thank you sir, may I have another? Of course, it would be irresponsible to block these formats without notification if a work-around wasn't provided. All you have to do is edit the registry, a task so simple a child could do it. Do it correctly? Ah, that's the rub.

Warning Serious problems might occur if you modify the registry incorrectly by using Registry Editor or by using another method. These problems might require that you reinstall the operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that these problems can be solved. Modify the registry at your own risk.

Alarmist? No doubt. Here's a sample instruction:

To enable Office 2003 to open files that are saved in previous Word file formats, follow these steps:

  • Click Start, click Run, type regedit, and then click OK.
  • Locate and then click one of the following registry subkeys:
    • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Word\Security\FileOpenBlock
    • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Word\Security\FileOpenBlock
    • Note This registry subkey may not be present. If the subkey is not present, you must create it.

  • Double-click the FilesBeforeVersion registry entry, and then type the value in the Value data box that corresponds to one of the values in the following table.

For example, the default value of this entry is set to "Word 6.0 for Windows" or "101." This setting means that all Word documents that were created in Word 1.x for Windows through Word 2.x for Windows Taiwan are blocked from opening. You can increase or decrease the default version. The versions that are specified in the list are in ascending order.

Or you could just skip Office 2003 SP3. Perhaps that would be best.

The Storage Bits take If anyone still trusts Microsoft with their data, this is reality's final boarding call. We need open document standards that are NOT defined by Microsoft and that Microsoft is required to support.

Microsoft also needs serious file system competition (see How Microsoft puts your data at risk and Outlook’s risky archives - and how to fix them ) before they will get serious about reducing data corruption and protecting your data.

Oh, be sure to turn off automatic updates. And wait for them to fix Windows Home Server's little file corruption problem.

Comments welcome. Please, Redmond spinmeisters, make me feel good about this!

Update: "Limp" best describes the early defenses of Microsoft's indefensible action. Some have accused me of sensationalism for using "destroys" rather than "renders inaccessible" in the title. No apologies there: yes the data may be intact, but if you can't read it how does that differ from destruction?

We're all reasonably technical here. But think of the hundreds of millions of users who aren't, the small businesses and grandmothers who rely on their computers for work and play, who'll install SP3 and then maybe not realize for weeks or months that they can't access their data. What are they supposed to do?

Update 2: A commenter placed an incomplete list of the blocked file formats so here is the complete list of blocked Word formats from the MS article.

Blocked file format:

  • Word 11 saved by Word 12
  • Word 2004 for Macintosh
  • Word 11 for Windows
  • Word 10 for Windows
  • Word 9 for Windows
  • Word X for Macintosh
  • Word 2001 for Macintosh
  • Word 98 for Macintosh
  • Word 97 for Windows
  • Word 95 Beta
  • Word 95 RTM
  • Word 6.0 for Macintosh
  • Word 6.0 for Windows
  • Word 2.x for Windows Taiwan
  • Word 2.x for Windows Korea
  • Word 2.x for Windows Japan
  • Word 2.x for Windows BiDi
  • Word 2.x for Windows
  • Word 1.2 for Windows Taiwan
  • Word 5.x for Macintosh
  • Word 1.2 for Windows Korea
  • Word 1.2 for Windows Japan
  • Word 4.x for Macintosh
  • Word 1.x for Windows
  • All older formats


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