Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Perfect Storm of Stupidity

Get an e-mail from a user. User is complaining that they cannot open Lotus 1-2-3 files.

I blink. Not once, about 30 times.

You see, we stopped using Lotus 1-2-3 in 1996. So the newest file created would be 12 years old. Looking further into it, some of the files date back to 1990. When it was Lotus 1-2-3 V3.

Now most of you probably have no idea what I am talking about. I am talking about files that were made using software that only ran on MS-DOS. Microsoft Windows wasn't widely used yet. The Internet didn't exist outside of colleges and universities. Corporate computers didn't have mice, hell they didn't have hard drives, and they cost over $3,000 a piece. (I just realized that we have employees younger than some of our computer files. Betcha that made you older folks blink. I still think of widespread corporate computing as a recent phenomena. Christ I'm getting old.)

Now, I don't know about you. But if I haven't accessed a file in 18 years, chances are I would never need that file. Especially when keeping that file contravenes our electronic record policy. But anyway, employees don't follow computer policies around here so why should they follow that one?

So this is minor stupidity number one.

But I agrees to help this particular user, and it shouldn't be that hard to open Lotus files with Microsoft Excel. We've been able to do that since we switched to Microsoft Office.

So I goes and try to open one of the files. And I gets the following error message:
"You are attempting to open a file type that is blocked by your registry policy setting"

Say what? Since when? I'm the Network Administrator round these parts, and I don't ever remember enabling that particular policy. Why would I? Why on earth would I want to prevent users from opening legacy files? That's a rhetorical question BTW.

Moving on, 4 little words: Thank God for Google.

In the bad old days before the Internet, I had to research issues using BBS bulletin boards and a lot of phone calls (Go Wikipedia BBS if I lost you on that). Anyhoo, in 2 minutes Google got me to this link on the Microsoft Support page. Which after some reading led me to this link (as the instructions in the previous link don't work.)

So what happened? Microsoft recently released Service Pack 3 for Office 2003. Which we've started deploying. One little thing Microsoft did in that service pack. They blocked access to "legacy" files for MS Office Programs.


Major, major, major stupid on the part of Microsoft.

Oh they include this little warning/explanation Important: These steps (enabling legacy files) may increase your security risk. These steps may also make the computer or the network more vulnerable to attack by malicious users or by malicious software such as viruses.

Two words.


Last time a computer was "infected" with a Lotus 1-2-3 file or a DBase database was like, uhhh, never? Get real Microsoft. Most of these formats are so old, they didn't support advanced scripting or macros that is necessary for virus execution. Unlike say, Excel 2003 spreadsheets.

The real reason they did this? Force users to upgrade. Somehow they desire to make legacy stuff hard to use, forcing users to stay current. That's the bet my money is on.

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