Microsoft: Office 2003 SP3 Blocks Older Files

Microsoft, which last month outlined the issue in an updated support bulletin and offered a head-scratching workaround, said older Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and Corel Draw file formats are blocked after Office 2003 SP3 is installed.

"By default, these file formats are blocked because they are less secure. They may pose a risk to you," reads the bulletin.

To restore full file access to Office 2003, Microsoft offered users a complex registry modification, along with the following ominous caveat: "Serious problems might occur if you modify the registry incorrectly by using Registry Editor or by using another method. These problems might require that you reinstall the operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that these problems can be solved. Modify the registry at your own risk."

Microsoft heralded Office 2003 SP3's arrival last year as "a major evolution in security for Office 2003" that "further hardens the Office suite against potential attacks and other security threats."

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Soon afterwards, users began complaining about error messages and being unable to open certain types of files, a situation that was exacerbated by Microsoft's Support team reportedly informing users they'd have to pay $250 to resolve the problem.

However, one Microsoft partner told CMP Channel the problems only affected a small segment of the Office 2003 user base. "The files they disabled were so old that they weren't anything we still commonly see in production," said Tim Barrett, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist in Louisville, Ky.

Several Microsoft partners have been seeing growing interest from customers in exercising downgrade rights, most often to move from Windows Vista to XP, but also to roll back Office 2007 to Office 2003, which is no longer available except through volume licensing.

According to solution providers, the most common reasons customers cite for wanting to downgrade are the major changes Microsoft made to the user interface in Office 2007, known as Office Fluent.