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Word formats fixed this summer

Microsoft Word users will have to wait until July for a comprehensive solution to the program's backward-compatibility problems.

Tech Industry

Microsoft Word users will have to wait until July for a comprehensive solution to the program's backward-compatibility problems, Microsoft (MSFT) said today.

The problems stem from the company's decision to create a new file format for Word 97, which began shipping in January as part of the Office 97 application suite. Because of the new file format, Word 97 users have to save their documents as RTF files if they want to share with Word 95 or 6.x users.

This work-around has caused problems--bloated file sizes, lost formatting, difficulty locating converted files--that Microsoft has scrambled to fix in the past few months. The problems won't get completely ironed out until the company releases a binary file converter that will allow Word 97 users to save their documents as true DOC files instead of RTF files. The utility will ship with a July service release of Office 97, said group product manager Dennis Tevlin.

"There were unforeseen consequences of the RTF conversions," Tevlin said. "Any time you have new functionality in a new version, you can lose the new functionality when you go back to the old version. That's the advance of technology."

The latest file converter, as well as a list of potential incompatibilities, is posted on the Word Web site.

The compatibility problems do not affect Word 97's ability to open older Word documents.

The service release will include a resetting of the email client within Word 97. Currently, the Word Mail client by default is "on" when Word loads, but the feature requires an extra 4MB of memory on top of the minimum 16MB recommended for Office 97. The service release will reset the default to "off." Other changes will be announced at a later date, Tevlin said.

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