Microsoft sets a cutoff date for free Office app viewers

Excel Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, PowerPoint 2007 Viewer and the Office Compatibility Pack are now slated for retirement in April.

Microsoft is warning customers that it will retire several Office application viewers in little more than four months, shutting off the spigot to the free document readers used by those without the productivity suite.

"The Excel Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, PowerPoint 2007 Viewer and the Office Compatibility Pack, will be retired in April 2018," said a post to a company blog. "At that time, they will no longer be available for download and will no longer receive security updates."

The announcement followed one a year ago, when the firm said it would put the Word Viewer to pasture in November 2017. That hasn't happened yet; the Word Viewer was still available as of Monday.

Along with the also-free Office Compatibility Pack - which will be chopped next April, too - the viewers let people not equipped with an actual Office bundle to open, view and read, and print Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks and Word documents. The idea was to allow collaboration with as large a workplace population as possible.

Microsoft launched the viewer concept at the end of the 20th century, but essentially halted development with the versions matching Office 2007.

They have been patched against security vulnerabilities since then, however. The viewers were made unnecessary for many by the introduction in 2010 of Office Online, and the mobile versions of Office's applications, which superseded that initial effort.

In view of the impending retirements, customers should seek alternatives. Microsoft suggested the appropriate mobile apps from the Windows Store for Windows 10 devices; the iOS and Android mobile apps for those with iPhones and iPads, and Android or ChromeOS hardware, respectively; an Office 365 subscription for Windows PCs and/or Macs; and OneDrive and its built-in viewer for Windows 7- and 8.1- personal computers.

At their retirement, the viewers and the Compatibility Pack will be removed from Microsoft's download website, and updates will cease. Existing copies of will continue to work normally.

Until they're scrubbed from Microsoft's site, the Excel Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer 2007 and Compatibility Pack can be downloaded free of charge.

There are, of course, other ways to wrangle older Office file formats, or view - or even work with - Office documents without the Microsoft suite itself.

For example, Google Docs lets users open Excel, PowerPoint and Word files in an Office Compatibility Mode (OCM), then save the results as Sheets, Slides or Docs files, respectively, and Office files can be converted to Google's formats from Google Drive.

A Chrome add-on, Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides, simplifies this further by opening dragged-to-the-browser Office files in the pertinent Google online application.

The open-source OpenOffice and LibreOffice can also open Microsoft Office-formatted files.

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