Old Microsoft bug hits Macs

A two-year old problem in Office 95 has resurfaced--this time in Microsoft's Office 98 for the Mac--and some say it's a design flaw.

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A two-year old problem in Office 95 has resurfaced, this time in Microsoft's Office 98 for the Mac.

The glitch originates from the way Windows 95 and Mac OS 8 treat deleted files. Rather than deleting all the information in a file, the operating systems delete only the reference to the files, leaving the original information intact but inaccessible.

Unfortunately, the operating system will then attach this gypsy information randomly to another file. Thus the "deleted" information can reappear under certain circumstances.

For example, if an email is sent with an attached file that was saved over a deleted file, the deleted data can be viewed through the ASCII text editor used to open the attached file. In this way, a recipient can potentially view sensitive or embarrassing information which was meant to be deleted.

"If you save a document in any of the major Office 97 or Office 98 for Mac applications, and then reopen the document or file in the native format (.doc or .xls) everything is cool," explained Bruce Brown, editor of BugNet, who yesterday put out an alert about the bug. "However, if you open the same file in an ASCII text editor, what you'll see is a residue of stuff that may be on the disk."

Microsoft has acknowledged the bug in Office 98 for the Mac, and says that later this week it will post a patch for the problem.

The design flaw in Office and Windows 95 was originally identified in January 1996, and a patch was issued soon after, according to Microsoft. The problem does not occur in Office 97, and a patch for the bug is included with Windows 98. Windows NT does not treat deleted data in the same manner as Windows 95 or 98 and therefore is not affected by the problem.

"We're working on a fix, and once it's fully tested we'll get it up on the Web site," said a Microsoft spokesman, who noted that the Windows version of the problem is not new, and a patch has long been available via the Net.

However, it is unclear why a problem that was identified two years ago in Office 95 was included on the Mac version of Office, especially since it was fixed in the latest versions of the Microsoft Office suite for Windows and Windows 98.

"This is the result of the fundamental design of the OS, a design flaw. Bugs can be errors in code, or errors in design. This appears to be a case of the latter," said Brown. "The question then arises, why wasn't this fixed in Office 98 for Mac?"

Microsoft blames the Mac problem on miscommunication between the development teams for each platform.

"The [Office 98 for Mac] developers thought it was fixed," said the Microsoft spokesman. "Although [Office 98 for the Mac] is the equivalent to the Windows product, the developer teams are separate, and they thought this was taken care of."