Compatibility pack for Open XML: 20 Million downloads and counting

The first compatibility pack for Open XML was released in November of 2006. This add-in for Office XP and 2003 (which also works with Office 2000 in some cases) enables users to open, edit and save Open XML files using prior releases of Office. The compatibility pack is designed to ease the pain of introducing a new file format. As we learned in Office 97, changing file formats can create some significant deployment and compatibility challenges. It is a migration that we're handling with all due care and consideration for our customers' business continuity requirements.

The availability of the compatibility pack has been an interesting discussion. Today, the compatibility pack is only available as a manual download. In other words, Microsoft does not "push" the compatibility pack to users using its update tools. IT organizations or end users must manually download the tool, and deploy or install it themselves. Many organizations have (literally) demanded this be made available as an automatic update, while others would be dissatisfied with this, claiming that Microsoft is "forcing" Open XML onto its existing user community.

We decided to make it available as a manual download, and not as an automatic update, and during the first 12 months of its release, the compatibility pack has been successfully downloaded over 20 million times. This means that 20 million people have elected to manually download this 26.2MB software to their computer. This is a significant number of people adding Open XML to their environment.

Why do people download the compatibility pack? – to use Open XML, of course. If a user of Office 2003 or XP tries to read/edit an Open XML file type, Windows will offer the "Use a web service to find the appropriate program" dialog box to direct you to the compatibility pack download site. If you have updated Office with the latest service packs, you will get a similar (but more user-friendly) dialog box that directs you to the same place.

 Compatibility Pack download site

On the download center, users select their language, get the bits and off they go. The 20 million people who have already completed this demonstrate that Open XML is already in widespread use today, about 1 year after its formal introduction with Office 2007. This is in addition to the adoption Open XML is gaining in the broader software community:

What is also interesting about the compatibility pack statistics is that they do not reflect deployment by IT organizations… It takes only one download by the IT desktop management team to prepare thousands of desktops with the compatibility pack (I have worked on a handful of these directly). The usage numbers for the compatibility pack are likely to be significantly higher than the download statistics indicate.

I won't explain in detail how these download numbers compare to things like the ODF Translator for Microsoft Office, but you can look at the download stats on SourceForge for that one and see for yourself. Being a product person (not a standards person) I'm far more interested in what users are doing with the software, so I don't have a positive or negative view of ODF (nor do I care to swordfight with the ODF community). But the statistics do speak pretty clearly about the preference of Microsoft Office users…

Microsoft Download Center Rankings for December 20, 2007

I believe in the marketing lexicon this is typically referred to as "rapid traction," but it does come with the responsibility of sustainability (speaking of buzzwords) and maintenance. Our commitment to the standard goes hand-in-hand with our long-term commitment to IT organizations and end users who have taken the opportunity to incorporate Open XML into their Office environment. Instead of the theoretical arguments and "what-if" scenarios that the document format standards community gets into, longevity of Open XML is a real consideration based only on the activity of people who use our products. In other words, Open XML is here to stay.

That's pretty exciting news.

Happy Holidays everybody.