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Should You Bulk Convert from MS Office Binary to OpenXML?

by Jonathan Allen on Feb 28, 2007 |

Microsoft has released a new tool for bulk converting MS Office files from the older binary format to the Office 2007 format OpenXML. The question is, should you use it?

The tool, called the 2007 Microsoft Office System Migration Guidance: Microsoft Office Migration Planning Manager, is now available from Microsoft.

Some companies may choose to bulk migrate to OpenXML so that they have the confidence that comes from using an open standard rather than the older proprietary format. It should also reduce the duration of the chaotic period where a companies internal documentation is split between multiple formats.

Other companies may choose to stay with the binary format because, despite is proprietary nature, it is widely supported by both Microsoft and non- Microsoft tools including OpenOffice and WordPerfect. Also, a bulk conversion requires the entire company to upgrade to Office 2007 all at once, a boon to Microsoft and the bane of IT departments worldwide.

Not offered by Microsoft is a way to bulk convert to the other new international standard, ODF.

InfoQ Asks: Where are your company's migration plans?

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mandatory upgrade, bulk conversion by Stefan Wenig

It should be mentioned that in theory, it's not necessary to migrate the whole company to Office 2007 in order to use Open XML files, a free add-in for Office XP and 2003 is available for free download. Whether it'd be wise to upgrade all document but not the software is another question though. Open XML files can contain stuff not supported by older versions (although that's unlikely with documents converted from those version), and open/save performance is lower.

Funny that you should mention bulk migration to ODF. Who in their right mind would consider a lossy bulk-migration? Migration to ODF should always be followed by manual reviews for every individual file. (Unless you convert only text files and don't care much about formatting.)

Re: mandatory upgrade, bulk conversion by Stuart McCulloch

Surely any bulk migration should be followed by manual reviews, at least of key documents, regardless of the target format?

Re: mandatory upgrade, bulk conversion by Stefan Wenig

to a degree, of course. i would not throw away the original documents in any case, and yes, key documents always need reviewing (especially spreadsheets).
that said, i would risk migrating a whole server share to OpenXML, and manually deal with problems reported by users. i have yet to find a document that doesn't convert nicely, so there shouldn't be many of them. and after all, there's a risk with upgrading even if you don't convert the files. given the nasty nature of those old binary formats, some documents might not open at all (I had one of those cases, at least they would be reported by a migration tool up-front and you can fix them from a PC with an older version of office installed).
if you ever looked at files migrated from binary MS office to ODF (no matter which tool you used for conversion), there are just too many differences as to even try it. it makes no sense to wait for problem reports if you know that, say, 50% of your documents are affected (depending on the kinds of documents you have).

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