Microsoft: No new tools to unblock files in Office 2007

'Trusted locations,' other work-arounds, are sufficient, says Microsoft manager

Microsoft will not post new tools that would allow users of Office 2007 to access blocked file formats, as it has done for customers running Office 2003 Service Pack 3 (SP3). It cited a lack of interest in such tools and said existing work-arounds accomplish the same thing.

Last week, after some users complained that Office 2003 SP3 had changed the suite's security defaults so that applications would no longer open numerous file formats -- including one used by Corel's CorelDraw graphics software -- Microsoft apologized to Corel and posted downloads that let users unblock formats without manually editing the Windows registry.

The company also said it was sorry. "We recognize that we have not made any of this as usable as we'd like, and we apologize that this hasn't been as well documented or as easy as you need it to be," David LeBlanc, a senior software development engineer with the Office team, said last Friday.

Several times last week, LeBlanc and others at Microsoft noted that Office 2007 has had similar format-blocking features in place since its November 2006 introduction. "This is something that Office 2007 has done by default since the day it shipped, and it hasn't impacted users there," Reed Shaffner, Office product manager, said a week ago.

That was the reason Shaffner cited this week when asked whether Microsoft would follow the 2003 SP3 decision with something similar for the newer application suite. "Office 2007 already introduced additional options to users at time of launch to make this experience even better," Shaffner said in an e-mail.

He pointed users to a page on the Office Web site that explains how to set up a "trusted location," a special folder on a local or network drive. Files in a trusted folder aren't checked by Office 2007's security tools before opening, and thus the older file formats open normally. "Trusted locations essentially makes it very easy to set up a trusted location and open any file type if you know where you want to open it from," said Shaffner.

The other work-arounds Microsoft has recommended to unblock the older formats in Office 2007 are similar to those originally offered to Office 2003 SP3 users. They included templates for corporate IT administrators, who can set or lift restrictions via group policy settings, and instructions on how to manually edit the Windows registry.

But Microsoft quickly rethought its stance on 2003, and issued several .reg files that users could download and run to modify the registry. The .reg files for Office 2003 SP3 automatically unblocked, and re-blocked, formats in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as unblocked CorelDraw's .cdr file format. Earlier, Corel objected when Microsoft had called its format a security risk.

When asked whether Microsoft would roll out .reg files for Office 2007, Shaffner pointed to the support document that outlines the existing work-arounds. Later, a Microsoft spokesman confirmed the decision.

"There are no separate .reg files at this point for Office 2007," said the spokesman in an e-mail. "However, Office 2007 has been in the market for more than a year and the team has not seen any significant feedback from customers with regards to this issue, which, again, given the initial research into the use of the blocked file types, is not surprising."

The reference to "research into the use of the blocked file types" echoed what both Shaffner and LeBlanc argued last week: Microsoft research shows that few people used the older formats with either Office 2003 or Office 2007.

Some users, however, disagreed, particularly those using the older Office 2003.

"After installing the Office SP3 update, I can no longer save files as .wq1 or as Lotus 1-2-3 files," said a user identified as "dbpeart" whose e-mail address was from the US Geological Survey's domain. "That worked fine in SP2. We have thousands of files in that format. Is there a setting somewhere that blocks this that can be reset?" asked dbpeart in a message posted to a Microsoft support forum.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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