This is what's wrong with proprietary data formats

· by Steve · Read in about 2 min · (343 Words)

I heard today that, unbeknownst to people downloading it, Office 2003 SP3 drops support for loading a number of older Office formats, including Word 6.0 and Word 97. Now, it’s fair to say that these formats are as old as the hills, but here’s the thing - businesses will have lots of archived documents that they probably haven’t converted to newer formats that they don’t want to lose access to. To just drop support for opening this archived material is ridiculous and is understandably ruffling a few feathers.

The reason given for dropping support for opening these documents is ‘security’ (and I say this in the same tone as General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchitt might, for it is indeed a dirty word in this context). I call bullshit on that - data isn’t a security threat, it’s the code that processes it that is, the data can’t do anything the code won’t let it do (even embedded scripts can be sanitised or sandboxed). Simply shutting off all access to older data, presumably because it might ‘go off’ at any moment, is simply not credible - my guess is that since the latest version of Office can still open them it’s actually a subtle nudge to encourage people on 2003 to upgrade. Sure, you can re-enable the functionality by hacking the registry (or of course by switching to Open Office, which I did several years ago now because it does everything I need) but that’s not a particularly attractive option to most I’m sure.

This is a textbook example why businesses should not allow their critical data to be locked up in formats (and tools) controlled by a single vendor. Your business data is worth far more than any software product and if you lose control of it, you’re exposed to it being held to ransom at some later date. Truly open standards are the answer, and by ‘truly’ I mean those that are open in spirit rather than just on paper, unencumbered by patents and preferably with more than one usable implementation.