Ever since Microsoft shipped Office 2007 for Windows, Mac users have been at a disadvantage. Office 2004 for the Mac (the current version) can’t read and write the new file format used by Office 2007. Microsoft didn’t place the creation of file-format converters for other platforms (and for older versions of Office) on the critical path for the software release.
We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if this was intentional or accidental. (I first wrote about this in February, in Singing the .docx blues.)
A week or so ago, Microsoft released its first beta of the Microsoft Office Open XML File Converter for the Mac. As far as I can tell, this was a fairly stealthy release; I only happened across it a couple of days on a Microsoft blog.
This release, labeled version 0.1b, is only for Word documents (.docx) and Word macro-enabled documents (.docm). What does it do? It converts .docx and .docm files into .rtf (rich text format) documents.
As the Microsoft blog says,
“We do not, however, want to see you inadvertently mess up any critical documents you are working with. For that reason, only one-way (read only) conversion is supported in this beta. When sending documents back to colleagues and contacts, we recommend saving to the default .doc format from Mac Word (listed as “Word document” in the save dialog). Similarly, we continue to recommend that you advise friends and colleagues who use Office 2007 and collaborate regularly with Mac users to save their documents as a “Word/Excel/PowerPoint 97-2003 Document” (.doc, .xls, .ppt) to ensure that the files can be robustly shared across platforms while waiting for final availability of Office 2008 for Mac.”
What about a real converter? Microsoft reiterates that Office 2004 users will have to wait until months after Office 2008 for the Mac (pictured) comes out:
“We plan to release a final integrated converter for Office 2004, which will appear as an update that allows you to simply open and save the new file formats as if they’d always been there (though, some of the newer functionality expressed in the formats will naturally only be available in Office 2008). We are on track to deliver this final integrated converter for Office 2004 six to eight weeks after Office 2008 for Mac is available.”
Without casting aspersions on the skill and dedication of Microsoft’s Mac developers (who must feel like fish out of water in Redmond), this is darned disappointing.
It’s also a telling indictment of Open Office XML, if file format converters are hard to create. But then, anyone who actually looked at the 6,039-page spec for Office Open XML knows that Microsoft’s intention was to create a format that would be impossible for anyone but Microsoft’s Office for Windows team to implement.
If Microsoft’s own Mac development team can’t get it right with a reasonable amount of resources in a reasonable period of time, what chance does anyone else have?