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'Draconian' Microsoft promises to make Office work again

Busting through SP3

High performance access to file storage

Update Microsoft has threatened to release a fix for an Office 2003 update that may well have the productivity suite work as intended once again.

As reported earlier Service Pack 3 for Office takes the unprecedented step of barring access to files created with earlier versions of the product. Install the Service Pack and your stash of documents (the ones you may be keeping for legal reasons) are suddenly just so much wasted disk and tape space.

We are talking seriously restrictive measures here. Office offers no warnings, the SP cannot be rolled back and there are no options that an average end-user can take to fix the problem.

Yes, that does indeed mean the lack of a dialog box saying:

"I am a sentient human being. I can assess risk. I can spell ‘responsibility’ and even, occasionally, assume it. I really, really want/need to open this old Word document. So go ahead, make my day.”

Just:

Screenshot of Office warning

It's not a bug . . . .

Microsoft did issue a registry hack but covered it with dire warnings about how dangerous hacking the registry can be.

The word draconian seemed appropriate, so we used it with Reed Shaffner, Microsoft Office Worldwide Product Manager. Very disarmingly, he agreed.

“Yes, I agree, it was too draconian.” he said. We hate it when Product Managers do that.

He then went on to say that in response to the user feedback, Microsoft plans to issue a new fix in the very near future. The fix will come in the form of a link that you can follow which will hack (sorry, modify) your registry for you so that the problem goes away. And we'll be providing that link as soon as possible.

Still, Shaffner was at pains to point out that using the fix leaves the machine open to the very vulnerability that the measure was designed to stop, so Microsoft would still advise people not to do this unless they have a very good reason.

He also supplied more information about the vulnerability. He said that the problem wasn’t in the file format as such; it was in the code that is used to parse these earlier files. We were just about to point out that this was Microsoft’s code (and, therefore Microsoft’s fault) but he beat us to it. We hate it when they do that as well.

So, zero out of ten for the heavy handed SP but grudging respect for actually listening to users and fixing the problem. ®

Update

Since we filed this, Microsoft has in fact managed to post the Office fixes. Travel over to this support site and look for the "How to enable blocked file types" heading.

UnblockWord.reg. Lovely.

High performance access to file storage

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