.docx Dilemma

As a sedentary sysadmin I don’t care much for upgrade cycles, maybe the term reminds me too much of bicycles, and bicycles remind me of exercise, and well you can follow the progression. Upgrades are an important aspect of good system administration. If you don’t patch vulnerabilities you end up spending more time in the long run cleaning up malware, recovering from data loses or looking for a new job after being fired for a massive data breach.

In the realm of office productivity software the need to upgrade seems to be fueled primarily by interoperability concerns with business contacts. Microsoft products are still the de facto standard on the business desktop, and you’ll need to handle Microsoft Office documents. While Open Office does a pretty reasonable job with the majority of documents you’ll come across, your users are probably more accustomed to (and currently using) Microsoft Office. Assuming you’re using a version of Microsoft Office that hasn’t reached it’s end of life, still has security updates released for it, and does everything you need it to do, why would you spend the money to upgrade? If your users are used to Microsoft Office 2003, upgrading to 2007 might result in all sorts of headaches as they get acclimated to that “intuitive” ribbon interface. If your going to make folks learn a new UI, maybe they’d be better office learning Open Office?

Just because your users are starting to get an increasing number of .docx file attachments does not mean you need to upgrade to Office 2007. If your not running MS Office of any kind, standalone viewers are available from Microsoft to help make these documents more accessible. If you are running Microsoft Office 2000, Office XP, or Office 2003, Microsoft has released the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack to let you use your old software with these new formats.

In the example below, we will roll out the Office Compatibility Pack to our network from the comfort of desk. Please note that you should have your workstations updated with all the High-Priority updates available before continuing. We will again be using Mark Russinovich‘s PsExec from the Windows Sysinternals PsTools suite to aid in the deployment.

Download FileFormatConverters.exe from here:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=941b3470-3ae9-4aee-8f43-c6bb74cd1466&displaylang=en

We’ll want to run this upgrade without disturbing our users, a quick google search for FileFormatConverters.exe silent install turns up a helpful post by “gbmolina” on the MSFN board.

Copy FileFormatConverters.exe to the same directory as PsExec, or be prepared to specify the correct file paths where applicable. Open a Command Prompt to the location containing PsExec and FileFormatConverters.exe, and issue the following command:

C:\SysInternals\PsTools>psexec \\* -c -i FileFormatConverters.exe /quiet /passive /norestart

Hopefully you’ll start seeing results like this:

\\PC0000055:
FileFormatConverters.exe exited on PC0000055 with error code 0.

Any computers that do not exit with error code 0 will need to be addressed individually.

On my network we were able to start using .docx right away without needing to reboot. Your miles may very, and as always use your own discretion when doing anything a random internet person tells you to do.

If you haven’t been following the news, the future of office productivity interoperability looks promising. Microsoft will (hopefully) eventually comply completely with the OOXML / Open XML format they’ve created, and currently have plugin support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Imagine a day when office software is chosen by it’s merits rather than the necessity to work with people not clever enough to send PDFs.

cheers.
-Chris

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