Office 2003 may indeed be fully compatible with Windows 8 but it is difficult to confirm for sure – because Microsoft aren’t publishing all the information needed to make an informed decision.
On the one hand, Microsoft Support states: “Office 2003 suites and applications are not compatible with Windows 8, you will have problems running it on Windows 8” [my bolding].
This advice refers to Windows 8/Windows 8 Pro and all versions of Office 2003 and associated applications. On the other hand, this view is flatly contradicted by Microsoft’s own Windows 8 Compatibility Center – checking for Office 2003 applications produces the following W8 compatibility results:
- Word 2003 SP3 – compatible
- Excel 2003 Professional – compatible
- Powerpoint 2003 SP3 – compatible
- Outlook 2003 Professional – compatible
- Publisher 2003 SP3 – compatible
- Access 2003 SP3 Professional – compatible
- Office 2003 SP3 Basic – compatible
- Project 2003 SP3 Professional – compatible
So, according to the Compatibility Center, every individual application in Office 2003 is compatible with Windows 8 – as long as you have installed the (free) Office 2003 Service Pack 3. It seems impossible to tell for sure as they haven’t published any details as to why they believe Office 2003 may not be compatible – what exactly is it that doesn’t work?
This conflicting advice inevitably raises the suspicion of scaremongering – that Microsoft may just prefer people pay them $120+ for a shiny new version of Office 2010/13, regardless of whether they really need it…
Certainly there are many users who have installed Office 2003 SP3 on Windows 8 and found that it appears to work just fine. There may be some very obscure features that are incompatible (or issues could arise after future W8 updates) but we aren’t aware of any yet – and Microsoft aren’t saying.
Office 2003 Future – Regardless of actual compatibility with Windows 8, it is worth noting that Office 2003 is 9 years old and does not have long to go before Microsoft stop supporting it. On April 8, 2014 Microsoft will drop all support for Office 2003 (and Windows XP).
That means there will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates – Office will continue to work but, once unsupported, it becomes more vulnerable to security risks.
Therefore it would be wise to switch to a newer version of Office before the cut-off date in 2014. However, that is still a year and a half away – those with Office 2003 who wish to eke out their initial investment can install it on Windows 8 now and upgrade much later on.
Is Office 2003 compatible with Windows 8? Microsoft say no (but won’t say why not) – but then Microsoft also say yes… In practice, plenty of people have installed Office 2003 since Windows 8 was officially launched (ignoring any errors during installation) and yet found no problems or incompatibility issues.
In our view, if you must have 100% guaranteed compatibility, upgrade to Office 2010 or 2013. If you want to keep Office 2003 for another year (especially if you don’t use the most complex features) it is likely worth installing it on Windows 8 – but consider switching before the end of support in 2014.