Google is removing support for the traditional Microsoft Office formats from its Google Apps software.
From October 1st users of Google Apps will no longer be able to download documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in the older "native" Microsoft Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt).
The latest versions of Microsoft Office have a different file format based on XML which have an open-source status. Going forward these are the only formats that Google Apps will support for content originating in Microsoft Office. This means that users will be able to download only Word as .docx, Excel as .xlsx, and PowerPoint as .pptx filels.
The mainstream non-Microsoft formats will still be supported, so you’ll be able to use ODT and RTF for documents, ODS and CSV for spreadsheets, SVG, PNG and JPEG for presentations, along with PDF, HTML and TXT.
The move to drop support for the older formats follows recent changes to Google Docs where documents in .doc, .xls, or .ppt formats have been automatically converted into the equivalent .docx, .xlsx or .pptx document when you try to download the document using Google Apps.
This has caused problems because users may need to share the document with others who are still working in an older version of Microsoft Office that does not support the more recent format.
Microsoft does, however, offer a compatibility pack that lets users of Office 2003 and earlier open the more recent format and Google recommends this to users who want to work with Office formats in Google Apps.
The real question is why has Google decided to abandon the old formats?
This is something of a mystery as the cost of supporting a format that you already support is low and the more formats supported the more versatile and attractive Google Docs looks to users. There have already been comments from some users about giving up on Google Docs because of the difficulty in working with earlier versions of Office.
Of course, there will be users who decide that Docs is more important than Office and will move to using Docs in preference to desktop apps. This is probably what Google is hoping, but it does feel like another technical decision motivated by marketing and political considerations - which is rarely a good thing for users or for the company.