Office 2003 – unsupported with Office 365. But will it work?

You probably heard by now. Office 2003 isn’t on the supported software list for Office 365. We suggest that all Office 2003 customers upgrade to Office Pro Plus a.k.a. OPP which is the subscription based version of Office 2010 (or purchase Office 2010 itself) for the best user client experience with Office 365.

Plenty of documents exists describing why OPP is the recommended client for the best client server/services experience, e.g. the whitepaper “Business Productivity at Its Best” (from 2009, when Lync was OCS).

Current owners of Office 2003 looking at OPP in Office 365 might ask – what differences would be worth a look in terms of building a business case for upgrading to OPP? With the newest servers (or rather services) available through Office 365 what will my client/Services experience be on my unsupported Office 2003 if I decide to remain on Office 2003 ?

Below you will find my personal notes on what productivity experience elements would be worth a look in terms of the Office 2003 client/Office365 service integration, service by service. The list is by no means exhaustive, but is merely an expression of my current understanding.


  • March 23, 2012:
    “Office 365 will now support POP and IMAP Connections to Outlook 2003” – link




2003 experience


Access 2003 provides a limited ability to integrate Access databases with SharePoint sites.  Individual tables can be exported to SharePoint sites (no link is maintained).  Individual SharePoint lists can be linked into Access 2003 databases.

Access 2003 does not support the new data types introduced in SharePoint nor does it have the ability to take this data offline. Integration process is cumbersome and no ability to move entire database to SharePoint site in one step.  As a result, Access databases remain isolated on the individual desktop where they create business risks because they are unmanaged.


Excel Services requires spreadsheets to be in Office Open XML formats (.XLSX). Users must save the spreadsheet they have created in the .XLSX format before uploading it to the Excel Services site.  This process must be done “manually” and is somewhat cumbersome. 

Excel 2003 does not support the ability to control which portions or components of the spreadsheet will display. 

For example if a workbook has multiple spreadsheets, one of which might have confidential information, there is no way to prevent it from displaying on SharePoint site. (You need a newer Excel client to control component visibility when publishing the workbook) 

Likewise, the Excel 2003 client does not enable specification of input (or parameter) cells


Integrating Groove 3.1 and SharePoint document libraries can be done in a limited fashion. Files residing in a SharePoint document library can be added to the Groove 3.1 workspace. No synchronization service is provided between the Groove workspace and the SharePoint document library and the files quickly can get out of sync.

 (not sure about the SPO 2010 story – would expect no integration at all)


Once a form has been published to a SharePoint forms library a link to the library can be sent to individuals. 

The challenge for these individuals is that they must learn the process of filling out a form in a forms library. (And they must have InfoPath installed on their PC).

To fill out the form they must click on the “new” button on the SharePoint site.  This launches InfoPath 2003 in which the form can be completed.  Saving the form populates the fields in the list on the SharePoint site.  This unfamiliar process can be daunting for users and decrease the likelihood that the process will be used consistently.

With InfoPath 2003 forms cannot be published to SharePoint for browser based completion.


The major issues with Outlook 2003 integration with SharePoint calendars is that only read-only access is provided.  The process of connecting a SharePoint calendar is straightforward but the side-by-side viewing mode is not as user-friendly as it could be.  Any changes to the SharePoint calendars must be done on the SharePoint site.  The inconvenience of this process (having to leave Outlook) reduces the attractiveness of SharePoint calendaring to users and reduces adoption

No ability to copy contents of SharePoint Server lists and libraries for offline access in Outlook folders. Basically the offline experience in Office 2003 is way below whats seen in Office Pro Plus.


No ability to publish slides to server where they can be easily shared, access slides on Slide Library from within PowerPoint, receive notification if slide on server changes.




2003 experience


Outlook 2003 was designed and built for an environment where servers are maintained locally within an organization and not part of a cloud service. Outlook 2003 does not support features and functionality that depend on the re-architected identity infrastructure and newer server architecture available in Office 365. Given these changes, Outlook 2003 cannot provide an acceptable end-user experience when connected to Office 365

Outlook 2003 access via POP/IMAP is technically possible but also not supported. If Outlook 2003 customers call for support, they will be advised to upgrade to a later version of Office. If they choose to remain on Outlook 2003 via POP/IMAP, they will not get calendar support, free/busy information, Global Address List, push e-mail, and many other features most people consider essential to the Outlook experience.

Update March 23, 2012: “Office 365 will now support POP and IMAP Connections to Outlook 2003” – link. Please be aware of the limitations compared to MAPI and OWA in Outlook 2007 and 2010 (see table below)

Note that the “Microsoft Exchange Online Connector for Office Outlook 2003” (enables free/busy lookups and offline address book downloads) only works with BPOS – NOT Office 365




2003 experience


In a spreadsheet with smart tags enabled you can see a persons availability and contact card

No ability to Share Now and Send by IM (exposed by Ribbon in 2010)


In the email From box you can see a persons Presence and Contact menu. Presence status in the Microsoft Outlook To and Cc fields appears on hover

No Reply with conference call from the availability menu

No Presence status in a meeting request on the Scheduling Assistant tab

No Reply with IM, or call from the toolbar or ribbon in a received email


In a document with smart tags enabled you can see a persons availability and contact card

No ability to Share Now and Send by IM (exposed by Ribbon in 2010)


Of course all of the above has to be contrasted with the OPP experience. If you do not yet subscribe to Office 365 I encourage you to sign up for a trial and experience for yourself (e.g by following this Office 365 Trial Guide)

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