Monday, Microsoft introduced Service Pack 3 for Office 2003. This 118MB download is packed full of updates, including both previous service packs and many additional updates. As usual, Microsoft says the update fixes issues involving the "big three" concerns for any Windows user: security, stability, and performance. But, what will you lose in the process?
Goodbye, Legacy Files, Goodbye!
Install SP3, and Office 2003 blocks access to a bunch of file formats, including Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro spreadsheets, .DIF and .SLK database files, PowerPoint presentations predating PowerPoint 97; very old versions of Word for Windows (1.x, 2.x) and Macintosh (4.x, 5.x) files, CorelDraw image files (.cdr), and others. Mama Microsoft says these filetypes present various security risks. The problem is, you might depend upon Office 2003 for access to these files. Fortunately, if you're not afraid of the Windows Registry (I recommend respect, but not fear), you can fiddle your system to enable Office 2003 post-SP3 to use these files. See Knowledge Base article 938810 for details.
What Else Is Gone?
Here are just three examples of changes that might cause you grief at home or the office:
Fast Saves has left the building. It may be the fastest way to save a file, but Fast Saves leaves in metadata, such as comments ("this paragraph is my idiot boss's idea") that might lead to security issues (like losing your job). Can you remove the metadata yourself? Yes, you can. Does Microsoft trust you to do it? Not anymore. Are you surprised? Probably not.
Some add-ins and ActiveX controls won't work as expected. Don't like it? The workaround reduces security (of course).
Microsoft Document Imaging gets broken by SP3, but you can fix it - again.
Office 2003 SP3 looks like a really mixed bag. If you (or your company) access legacy data files, installing SP3 will create big headaches. And, even if you don't, other changes in SP3 have the potential to make users and system administrators alike reach for their favorite pain reliever. Install SP3 at home, and you might find yourself short of playtime while you fix problems.
Before you install SP3, take the time to read all of the notes - and keep in mind that the only way to banish SP3 from your system if you change your mind later is to uninstall Office 2003 and reinstall it. Ouch! As for me, I'm going to wait a while. Microsoft's been known to issue revised versions of its service packs - and this one looks like a prime candidate for second thoughts from Redmond.
Upgrading to SP3 and Keeping Your Legacy File Options Open - the Easy Way
You (or your company) may decide that the upgrade to Office 2003 SP3 is worthwhile, but if you need continued access to legacy file formats that SP3 kicks to the curb, there are a couple of ways around the problem without tinkering with the Windows Registry:
1. Use a standalone file conversion program, such as: