Microsoft Office Tutorials and References
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Tip 11: Understanding Excel Compatibility Issues
Understanding Excel Compatibility Issues
The most recent version of Excel is known as Excel 2013, and it’s version 15. Microsoft’s version
numbering is a bit misleading because they’ve only released 12 versions of Excel for Windows. The first
version was Excel 2, and they skipped right over versions 6 and 13.
Besides Excel 2013, three other versions of Excel for Windows are still widely used: Excel 2003, Excel
2007, and Excel 2010.
If you create workbooks only for Excel 2013 users, you can skip this tip because you don’t have to be
concerned with compatibility. But if you create workbooks for those who use an earlier version, you
need to understand compatibility.
The Excel 2013 file formats
The current Excel file formats (all of which were introduced in Excel 2007) are
➤ .xlsx: A workbook file that doesn’t contain macros
➤ .xlsm: A workbook file that contains macros
➤ .xltx: A workbook template file that doesn’t contain macros
➤ .xltm: A workbook template file that contains macros
➤ .xlsa: An add-in file
➤ .xlsb: A binary file that’s similar to the old .xls format but able to accommodate the new
➤ .xlsk: A backup file
With the exception of .xlsb, these are all “open” XML files, which means that the file format is not
proprietary and other applications can read and write these types of files.
The XML files are actually zip-compressed text files. If you rename one of these files to
have a .zip extension, you can examine the contents using any of several zip file utilities —
including the zip file support built into Windows. Taking a look at the innards of an Excel
workbook is an interesting exercise for curious-minded users.
The Office Compatibility Pack
Normally, those who use a version prior to Excel 2007 can’t open workbooks saved in the newer Excel
file formats. But, fortunately, Microsoft has released a free Compatibility Pack for Office 2003 and
If an Office 2003 or Office XP user installs the Compatibility Pack, he can open files created in Office
2007 or later and save files in the newer format. The Office programs that are affected are Excel,