Many Office users use Office 2003 as well as Office 2007/2010 and sometimes it is important to understand how compatibility issues can affect application files if they are used in different Office versions. The article summarises the key differences and describes several compatibility issues.

Compatibility issues can arise if you need to send to, or receive from, application files from another Office user who has a different version. The later 2007/2010 versions Office applications can Save As to the earlier 97-2003 version, but by default the earlier version cannot open a later versions file. However a free viewer can be downloaded from Microsoft to view but not edit later version files.

If a 2007/2010 user saves an application file to the 97-2003 version, the Office Application runs a compatibility checker before the saving is carried out and presents the results in a Compatibility Checker alert panel.

The checker identifies 2007/2010 features which are not compatible with the 97-2003 version. If the feature identified is graphics based, for example a SmartArt diagram, then the saved version will still show the item, but just as an image, and cannot be edited as SmartArt in the 97-2003 version. So the SmartArt image will still look exactly as it was created but it can only be edited as an image. Interestingly if a 2007/2010 user saves a chart to an earlier version, the chart remains fully editable in the earlier version, because all versions use the same kind of chart generator.

However some identified compatibility issues will not work correctly when saved to the earlier version. For example additional functions in Excel 2007 will show as errors in 97-2003, or WordArt created in Word 2007 and PowerPoint 2007 will not be fully editable in 97-2003.

A later 2007/2010 version user can open an earlier 97-2003 version file. The file will open in Compatibility mode and the word "Compatibility" will appear just right of the filename at the top of the screen. The file can be viewed, edited and saved, and will remain in 97-2003 format. Some of the new features will not be available in this mode.

For example if you open an Excel 2003 file in Excel 2007 the maximum number of rows will be at the 2003 level of 65,000 rather than the 2007 level of 1 million. If you open a Word 2003 or PowerPoint 2003 file in Word 2007 or PowerPoint 2007 then the full range of themes are not available. However all the features available in the original version plus some of the newer version features are available.

A 2007/2010 user can also convert a 97-2003 application file to the new version, so that the file format is changed. This can be useful if the users intends to continue working with the file in the newer version application. Then all the new 2007/2010 features will be available for the converted file. If you do decide to convert a file from the older to newer version it's best to keep a backup copy of the original older version, because the Office Application converts the original file to the newer version file and does not keep the original.

The compatibility points above are all applicable to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. However Access compatibility is a different matter. Because the file types are fundamentally different between 97 and 2007/2010 versions, there are more version differences and so more compatibility issues. For example Access 2007/2010 users can add attachments to tables or store multi values in some fields, and can also apply formatting to memo fields in RTF format.

In Access 2007/2010 you can Save As the database to the earlier version. However if the 2007/2010 does contain any of these new features an alert appears advising that the file cannot be saved to the earlier version and the file will not be saved. You can only save the file to the earlier version if you don't use any of the new Access 2007/2010 features.

You can open an old version Access file in the newer version. The file will open in compatibility mode and retain older version features but none of the new features can be used, because the file formats are fundamentally different file. Consequently users tend to stick with the Access version the database was created in, and only move to a newer version when they need to create a new database.

In conclusion the change to Office 2007/2010 from Office 97-2003 has resulted in a range of compatibility issues, many common between Word, Excel and PowerPoint. However with the help from the inbuilt checkers and alerts, users can change between the versions relatively easily. However the move is much more difficult with Access as the file types are fundamentally different.

If you're interested in learning more about the Microsoft Office applications, particularly the 2007/2010 versions, you might like to consider attending a training course. This can be a really effective way to greatly increase your skills in using Microsoft Office.