Office 2003 Service Pack 3 will be winging its way to users via a Microsoft automatic update from next month.
Microsoft announced on its update product team blog that it is making Office 2003 Service Pack 3 (SP3) available via automatic distribution. After a 30-day waiting period — starting on 27 January — the release will make its way out to users' computers, with the first users encountering the update around 27 February.
The update will become available in a staggered fashion, according to the blog, which stated: "Availability will happen gradually and not everyone will see it at the same time."
Office 2003 SP3 was first released in September last year and contains "significant security enhancements, in addition to stability and performance improvements", according to Microsoft.
Some of the security enhancements inconvenienced users by blocking access to older file formats, including Word 6.0 and Word 97 for Windows, and Word 2004 for Mac, as well as older versions of Excel, PowerPoint, Lotus Notes, Corel Quattro spreadsheet, and the CorelDraw graphics package.
Microsoft said its reason for blocking the old formats is that hackers target the "less secure" parsing code for those formats and, if the formats are not being used, it is "risk without reward".
However, the software giant underestimated the number of users that blocking the format would affect and was forced to provide four downloadable updates that would unblock the file formats — one update for each of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and CorelDraw file types.
The updates alter the registry settings to allow users to open and to save all file types that are supported by Microsoft Office 2003, including the file types that are blocked by default in Office 2003 SP3.
Microsoft recommends that users only use these updates if they need to. "These steps may also make the computer or the network more vulnerable to attack by malicious users or by malicious software such as viruses," the company said.
There are also four updates available which change the registry settings back to the default settings for Office 2003 SP3.
However, Microsoft considers the most successful upgrade to have taken place when the user doesn't realise it has happened: "In some cases people probably don't even know that it's working for them, which is just perfect."