New Year's resolution: Don't forget the format

Pretty much anyone who has been in storage management for more than five minutes knows that it's not enough to simply back everything up and hope for the best.

Pretty much anyone who has been in storage management for more than five minutes knows that it's not enough to simply back everything up and hope for the best. You have to regularly check those archives to make sure that you've actually got useable copies, and if you're being really thorough, you also need to check that you still have software capable of reading those files.

While this second issue is probably something that you'd anticipate when dealing with much older legacy formats, it can sometimes sneak up on you with comparatively new products. I was reminded of this when a colleague forwarded me a link to a fix needed to make sure that Office 2003 can still read older formats after Service Pack 3 has been applied.

Problems with Office formats are nothing new -- indeed, the introduction of a totally new file format in Office 2007 might have been much more controversial if the other changes to the product (like the still-abysmal Ribbon interface change) hadn't put so many organisations off using it anyway.

Nonetheless, the scope of the most recent patch for Office 2003 is a little disturbing.

Apparently for "security reasons", Office 2003 won't read any files from PowerPoint versions that are older than Office 97. That's only two versions prior, and it's a format Microsoft itself created! While I don't suppose many people are actively using Office 97 (though in truth the gains to the product since that time have been slight), I bet there's a lot of files from that era still stored away, and silently being rendered useless by security patches.

Office 2003 SP3 was made available in September, but the fix, which involves the usual tedious registry hacking, was updated in December. This suggests that several people spent time suffering and trying to access older files before the problems got resolved.

The moral of the story? When you're testing patches, don't just look at currently active work practices; think about what you've got stored away. And try and avoid proprietary formats altogether if you can. Come to that, it'd be nice if everyone gave up creating PowerPoint presentations altogether, but let's not run before we can walk.