Google Docs and Apps: doc, xls or ppt format downloads removed

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 27, 2012
Google, Microsoft Office

Google's document editing and hosting service Google Docs supports a variety of formats. You can upload Microsoft Office or Open Office documents for instance, to access, edit or share those documents online. What you can also do is download documents to a computer you are working on, for instance to add a local document copy to it that you can work on when you do not have Internet.

If you have recently tried to download a doc, xls, or ppt document that is hosted on Google Docs, you may have noticed that it is automatically converted into a docx, xlsx or pptx document before it is being made available for download. The conversion may alter the existing document, but what is even more of an issue for some users is that they now have to work with a format that may not be supported on their computer.

There are ways around that. Microsoft is making available a compatibility pack for old versions of Office that users can install to add support for docx, xlsx and pptx documents. The open source alternatives Open Office and Libre Office are also supporting the format.

google docs doc format

Up until now, this affected only Google Docs users, but not Google Apps users. This is going to change on October 1 when Google is rolling out the same change to Google Apps.

The following features are intended for release to these domains on October 1st:
Docs: Users no longer have the ability to export Google Docs format files in Office 1997-2003 format (.doc, .xls, .ppt).

This reduces the available formats that you can download your documents to. It feels kinda strange that you can't download documents that you have uploaded as doc, xls or ppt files in the very same format that you have uploaded them. If you are now thinking about synchronizing the documents with Google Drive, you are again running head first into a wall. If you analyze the documents that Google Drive syncs with a local computer, you will notice that all Office formats are listed with a size of 1 Kilobyte. The only option to make the documents available offline is to use Google Chrome and activate offline access in the browser.

This is a serious problem in my opinion, and one of the main reasons why I'm not using Google Drive. Competitors such as Dropbox or SkyDrive make files available offline if you are using their synchronization programs. Plus, they do not just convert document formats automatically before they make the files available for download.


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  1. Jeremias Gonzalez said on September 28, 2012 at 7:39 am

    There was a fairly lengthy discussion of this on /. and I must say that I feel everyone is blowing this out of proportion, Google is justified in making this decision. For starters, as Bo Dang Ren points out the old formats were used by the older software that should have been replaced a long time ago. Businesses that still use those should have at least upgraded to the newer versions for more features, more security, more updates, and more compatibility. Google is merely removing support for this older software that need to be phased out and replaced (for the people who still have them) with newer software that is more compatible and more stable across multiple platforms. People shouldn’t be limited to what Microsoft locked them in with, using newer and open document formats will help in the long run. OpenDocument formats are an especially good way to go as it prevents further dependence on Microsoft’s formats.

  2. Bo Dang Ren said on September 28, 2012 at 12:53 am


    Google still allows downloading of all the same formats for the office products it did before. The last version of MS Office to use the binary formats by default was Office 2003. MS stopped mainstream support for that in 2009. All fully supported MS OFfice versions now default to the OOXML format.

    Google doesn’t let you export to WordStar, either. It’s really no big deal. You have the following options:
    MS Office
    Open Document
    Rich Text
    Web Page

    About the only thing missing is Apple’s offering.

  3. kalmly said on September 27, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Well, that’s cloud computing, folks.

  4. Adam Skinner said on September 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Well, you’ve detailed the change fairly well, but I fail to see an actual problem here. Did it let you save in multiple obsolete versions of Doc before? Or just one format?

    The .docx format is now standard. It’s very easy to adapt to.

    This isn’t a problem; it’s a change. You’re simply resistant to it without a good reason. And “I don’t want to install an application that’s compatible with this new standard” is not a good reason. It’s free, man.

    1. Chris said on September 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      My understanding from the article was that they are only using the ODT format. While I agree with you that .docx is a common format, other formats should still be supported. There are still many people who are not using .docx or ODT formats who will ultimately be left out to dry here. I think it is rather silly to drop the other formats, when it is just as easy to keep supporting them.

  5. Chris said on September 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I have to say that I am really disapointed in the direction that google is going. Perhaps google is removing these features because it is an edgecase for them, but nevertheless not all users always want to use the google docs format. Google used to be about freedom, now they are like everyone else

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