Excel 2010 – Ch. 02: E – Saving Workbooks for Excel 2003

Posted 2 years 194 days ago ago by Babu     
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Part E: Saving Workbooks for Excel 2003

Excel 2010 has changed a lot compared to Excel 2003, including the file formats and the features. Every new version of Excel comes with a set of new features, and they are not backward compatible. While the difference between Excel 2010 and Excel 2007 are not that much, there’s a significant difference between Excel 2010 and Excel 2003 versions.

In the previous part of this chapter, you saw the Compatibility checker utility, which lists out the incompatible features in your workbook related to Excel 2010 and older versions.

Also, whenever you open a workbook that’s in the old XLS file format, Excel switches into compatibility mode. Unlike the Compatibility Checker which points out potential problems after the workbook has been created, compatibility mode prevents you from using unsupported features altogether. For example, the compatibility mode will limit you to use only the features that are available in the XLS format, such as:

  • The number of rows allowed will be 65,536 instead of 1,048,576, and the number of columns allowed will be 256 instead of 16384.
  • You will not be able to use any of the new formulas and features that were introduced after Excel 2003 version.
  • You will be prevented from using really long or deeply nested formulas.

When you are in the compatibility mode, all the missing features will not be found anywhere. In fact, compatibility mode is so seamless that you will not even notice you are in the compatibility mode, except for the title bar, which shows the workbook name as “Book1.xls [Compatibility Mode]”.

But, if you want to share your workbook with people who are using Excel 2003 or even older versions, then the process is a bit more complicated, because Excel 2003 and older versions use the older XLS format instead of the new XLSX format.

If you ever happen to be in this situation, then Excel offers you two options:

Using a free add-in for older versions of Excel:

If reading is all that matters, then all those users who are still using Excel 2000 / 2002 / 2003 can read your Excel 2010 files by installing a free add-in provided by Microsoft. To download the add-in, visit the site and searching for “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint File Formats”, or use this URL However, you should still have to run the Compatibility Checker to make sure your workbook is not using any features that aren’t supported in Excel 2003.

Saving the workbook in old format:

Use the Save As feature to save a copy of your workbook in XLS file format, which has been the standard file format supported since Excel 97. To save in using the XLS format, select File=>Save As, or press F12, which opens the Save As dialog box. From the “Save as type” dropdown list, select Excel 97-2003 Workbook and click Save.

When you save an Excel workbook into XLS format, Excel won’t switch into compatibility mode automatically. Instead, you will have to close and reopen the workbook to get into compatibility mode.

Also, if you happen to use the Save As option, then it’s better you keep the original file in the XLSX file format, since the older formats does not retain all the data, particularly the new features that were introduced in Excel 2010.

Converting from old XLS format to XLSX format

Though it possible to open the old XLS files in Excel 2010, as you know it will open it in compatibility mode. If you ever feel that you are ready to move it into XLSX file format, you can always use the Save As. To save a XLS file into XSLX, select File=>Save As or press F12 which opens the Save As dialog box. From the “Save as type” dropdown select the new file format and click Save. However, excel provides another simple option, the Convert button (see the image below).


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