Microsoft Office has poor document format support between platforms

The brand name “Microsoft Office” doesn’t always mean “Microsoft Office”. A quick comparison of what document formats are supported on which platforms. It is clear the OpenDocument Text format isn’t a priority. I put Word for iPad through a simple document format compatibility test to see how it stacks up against Microsoft’s other offerings. I’ve already had bad experiences from Office Mobile for Android and iPhone, and were curious to see if the tablet variant performed any better.

Yesterday, Microsoft Office for iPad made its worldwide debut. It got a lot of attention from the press despite being less relevant than it would have been three years ago.

Document format support in Microsoft Office’s many word processor products

Product Platform Open XML (.docx) Binary Format (.doc) OpenDocument (.odt) Plain-text (.txt) Plain-text (.*) Rich-text (.rtf)
Word Online Web supported compatibility mode compatibility warnings none none none
Word Windows, WinRT supported supported compatibility warnings supported supported supported
OS X supported supported none supported some extensions supported
iPad supported compatibility mode none none none none
Office Mobile Word iPhone, iPod supported compatibility mode none read-only none read-only
Android supported compatibility mode none read-only none none
Windows Phone supported compatibility mode infinite loading supported none read-only
OneDrive Editor Web none none none supported some extensions none

The table scrolls horizontally.

“Supported” in the above table means that a basic document can be viewed and edited. Advanced functionality such as password protected document, complicated formatting, and complex layouts are only available in the Windows, WinRT, and OS X versions.

Interoperability be damned?

Microsoft, under competitive law pressure from the European Commission, have stated their intent to support the OpenDocument Format (ODF) alongside their own Office Open XML Format. Adding ODF support in Office was one of their ways to increase interoperability between Office and competing products.

Microsoft’s commitment, however, seem to be limited to its desktop and tablet Windows operating systems only. The OpenDocument Format isn’t supported in Office Mobile (Android, iOS, and Windows Phone) nor in Microsoft Office for Mac OS X and iPad.

Curiously though, the OpenDocument Format is supported in Office Online. Possibly giving an indication of where Microsoft thinks the future of its Office product is heading.

Plain-text baseline missing

I am surprised by the lack of support for unformatted plain-text documents. I would have expected these simplest of documents would have formed the minimum baseline for what one can expect from a word processor.