Some readers took exception when I stated in a post from last month on future-proofing your data archive that Microsoft's proprietary Office file formats may not stand the test of time. Well, compatibility problems have already surfaced between the two most recent releases of MS Word.
Several people report spaces being dropped randomly from documents created in Word 2010 when the files are opened in Word 2007 on another machine. (A post on the Microsoft Answers forum explains the problem in more detail.)
The quick fix is to set both systems to use Adobe PDF as the default printer driver. Of course, this is a system-wide setting you change in Windows 7's Devices and Printers (Printers and Faxes in Vista and XP). Microsoft provides a short video explaining how to change your default printer in Windows 7; the steps are similar in earlier Windows versions.
If you're willing to do without the new features of Microsoft's XML-based Office file formats, you can set Word to use the older .doc format by default instead of the newer .docx. To do so in Word 2010, click File > Options > Advanced and scroll to "Compatibility options" at the bottom of the window on the right. Choose All New Documents in the first drop-down menu and Microsoft Office Word 2003 in the second menu.
Microsoft's TechNet site describes the Compatibility Mode settings in Office 2010 and Office 2007, respectively. Wikipedia's Office 2010 page lists the features removed from the most recent version of the suite.
A 'standard' file format acts in a very non-standard way
Both of the solutions to the Word file-formatting problem--resetting the default printer on both PCs and reverting to the .doc default file format--seem like overkill to address what appears to be a minor glitch. The bigger question for me is what benefit the Office XML file formats offer to PC users. In corporate settings, they clearly make file management easier and more efficient for IT departments (once all the compatibility problems are worked out).
But this is not how you would expect a de facto standard file format to operate. It seems Microsoft wants all the benefits of ruling one of the preeminent file standards in the computer industry without the costs of ensuring new versions of the format retain compatibility with previous releases.
The Office file formats--new and old--will continue to dominate the industry for years to come. No doubt organizations benefit from the predictability that these "standards" provide. Likewise, millions of dollars have been spent training people to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and other Office apps. But in terms of productivity and ease of use, are these programs really the best choice from a user's perspective?
In other words, are we PC users along for the ride, or are we being taken for one?