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I am a Professor of Law and the Director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University, Washington College of Law and am a founding member of the Creative Commons board.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Please Don't Use .docx

If you, like me, work in an organization that has switched to Microsoft Office 2007, please be alert to two problems and their solutions.

Problem 1: They changed the interface big time. Microsoft says it's an improvement based on user data. If you, like me, value your time relearning a new menu structure that is in no way intuitive is not an improvement.

Solution: There is an easy solution - OpenOffice, the free office suite that is interoperable with Microsoft Office let's you stay with largely the same interface as MS Office 2003.

Problem 2: They changed the file format. For reasons nicely explained by Brian at Teach Them Well, this is not an improvement. It's an attempt to break the standard that Microsoft established with earlier versions of Office. The new file formats end in x (.docx, .pptx, .xlsx). These are not compatible with earlier versions of MS Office. When you instruct MS Office 2007 to use the older file formats (.doc, .ppt, .xls) the window announces that you are operating in "Compatibility Mode". Draw the inference - when you are using the new MS Office 2007 formats, you are operating in "Incompatibility Mode". Why would you want to do that?

Solution: Switch to OpenOffice or, if you must use MS Office 2007, use these instructions to change the default file formats to the standard ones.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Paul said...

While it may take a little bit of time to learn, I have to get on board with Office 2007, which in my opinion has got the best, most user-friendly interface of any substantial piece of software ever. I'm hoping it's an interface that everyone is going to have to learn, because I'm hoping the ribbon sets a new standard for software designed.

The .docx thing would be a bigger deal if there weren't a lot of solutions for this. As the blog post you link to mentions, OpenOffice can now handle .docx. Moreover, for legacy Office users, Microsoft has made a free download available so that versions all the way back to Office 2000 can use the Microsoft OpenXML files. This is true now, and it was true when Brian made his post on December 5; he's either willfully misrepresenting the state of affairs, or he's just out of the loop. No payment is required to be able to open, edit, and save .docx files on older versions of Office, just one small download. Sure, that'll shut out some users, but if you're still using Office 97, it may be time for an upgrade anyway. There's a point at which it's time to make a change and you have to break compatibility, or else we'd never have gotten past .txt.

And, whatever they've changed, .docx clearly has some advantages. For a 30-page document I happen to have in My Documents right now, the storage overhead in .doc was 135 KB. In .docx, only 69 KB, almost half the size.


OpenOffice was never quite up to snuff for me, but it was getting progressively better, and for a while back a couple of years ago I did convert. But with Office 2007 out there, it'd be a long time before I open up OpenOffice again, because Microsoft has really produced an amazing piece of software. To anyone out there who hasn't spend a lot of time with Office 2007, I'd encourage you to give it a chance and spend some time with it. What they've been able to do to make the functions of the software accessible, intuitive, and easy to understand is amazing, and the only weak parts of Word 2007 are the parts that haven't yet gotten the refit and still look and work basically the way they did on 2003.

3:18 PM  
Blogger jake_leone@hotmail.com said...

No this is definitely not an improvement. The new menu structure is designed for people who cannot read. For those who, it is a distinct disadvantage.

The truth is, now you must rock your eyes up and down in order to find the menu you want. In the old menu system, you simply scanned (once) left to right, then click the menu, scan (once) up and down.

The only improvement is for those who do not understand what the menu item do. Yes for technically stupid, and people "who can't read good", office 2007 provides a crutch, at the time and expense of all the other people who actually paid attention during grade school.

And BTW, "Once you get used to it...you'll see it is an improvement" is a bald face lie. It is not an improvement, and points out that once again a manager at Microsoft has gained brownie points at the expense of the user base.

2:54 PM  
Blogger jake_leone@hotmail.com said...

The menu structure of Office 2007 is definitely not an improvement.

You now must move your eyes up and down around the icons to find the menu item that you interested in.

With the old menu system, you could just scan left to right once, then up and down once.

This menu system is a concession to the kids who "can't read good", at the expense of everyone else.

I am sure some manager at Microsoft earned a "good review" by forcing everyone in the Microsoft user base to work at the speed and level of the dumbest people.

2:58 PM  

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