Microsoft SharePoint and Office Online Server 2016 Expands Support of File Formats

Microsoft’s relationship with the open source community used to be one that was met with resistance. But in recent years, Microsoft seems to be accepting open source with open arms as is evident by many recent announcements and changes. In SharePoint 2016, we will see yet another acknowledgment of the value open source can bring by the welcoming of previously unsupported file formats within its environment.

Understanding File Formats.

File formats indicate how the data within a file is organized or structured. Each file format (.jpg, .png, .doc, .pdf, etc.) is designed to store specific types of information and tells your computer how to display the information enclosed. Each file format is tied to and usually only recognized by one specific program (PDFs, for example, are tied to Adobe Acrobat files) and can be proprietary or free, unpublished or open.

  • DOCX Format: Microsoft Word Open XML Document

In Microsoft Office 2007, .docx files became the standard file type of Microsoft Word documents. (Earlier versions of Word uses the proprietary .doc file extension.) Developed to cut down on file size, .docx files save on hard drive space and bandwidth. Designed as an open standard, .docx files are easily recognized and readable by various word processing products including open source alternatives like Open Office and Libre Office.

For some time, SharePoint would only support files using this .docx format. In fact, in SharePoint 2010 and 2013, 105 different file types are blocked by default. This means you cannot upload those file types into lists or libraries without first converting all files to the .docx format.

  • ODF Format: OpenDocument Format

ODF is the standard for various file formats used by OpenOffice. Commonly used for saving and exchanging text, spreadsheets, charts and presentations, ODF Is the ISO International specified method of storing and processing information for Office documents. It’s an open standard that any company can implement in their software; making its file extensions (.odt, .ods, .odp, etc.) easily recognizable.

  • ODT Format: OpenDocument Text Document

One of the most commonly used filename extensions used for ODF documents is .odt. ODT documents are used by Google Docs and other popular open source word processing applications (like OpenOffice and LibreOffice). ODT was created with the intention of reducing Microsoft’s market share and to provide users with a free alternative to their applications. Since the format is used almost exclusively by competitors of the Microsoft Office Suite,  it was no surprise that it wasn’t compatible with SharePoint; until now.

Using Word Online.

Using Word Online allows you  to create or edit a Word document through your browser, as opposed to using the Word desktop application. Word is essentially the same whether you open it in the Word Online Web application or on the desktop app, but typically Word Online offers only a subset of the features the desktop application uses.

When using Word Online (as in a SharePoint environment using Office Online Server) to edit a document, you may notice some formatting differences.  The data and content will convert in Word Online which is a welcomed change from previous versions of SharePoint, however there are still some limitations with how you interact and format the data. For instance, certain collaboration features are not supported like track changes, content controls, frame sets and information rights management.

SharePoint 2016 also brings several other welcomed file changes. File sizes within SharePoint have been enhanced now with support for larger file sizes. There has been an increase of maximum file size of 2 GB to 10 GB. However it is not recommended to store files that large ins a SharePoint environment. The bandwidth required, the impact on upload/download speed usually causes time-out issues and the impact on overall performance are just a few reasons  why you should limit the file size within SharePoint. File name character restrictions have also been reduced so you can now upload file names with previously restricted symbols like &, %, and #.

Things to Consider.

While some limitations still exist, the acceptance by Microsoft of open source file extensions prove that their has been a shift in how Microsoft is operating.  Remember, it wasn’t long ago, that a Microsoft CEO compared open source to a cancer.  But with their continued integration and creation of open source code and tools, businesses will be able to leverage the best solutions available. It goes to show that the tech industry as a whole has become collaboration centered and realizes that incorporating micro services , or leveraging the best features/functionalities from several vendors is what the market is seeking.