How big of a security risk is Office 2003 for my limited personal usage?
March 21, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I am still using Office 2003 for personal use. It meets my limited needs perfectly well, and I want to avoid learning curves and costs associated with alternatives if at all possible. I understand that Microsoft will no longer be issuing security patches for it soon, so there are potential risks in continuing to use it, but how serious are those risks given my actual pattern of use? And can they be easily mitigated by avoiding various features or behavior?

Here's pretty much what I still use Office 2003 for:

Outlook 2003:

- I use it send and receive email from multiple accounts, including cloud-based mail like gmail, and mail from addresses at my own domain.
- I have lots of old archived mail that I might possibly need to refer to at some point.
- I'm careful about opening attachments and links, and in any case they don't open in Office applications, but in Firefox, PDF reader etc.
- I use the calendar features, but not to interact with anyone. (Not to schedule meetings for example.) More for planning my time, noting upcoming events etc.

Excel 2003:

I have plenty of spreadsheets that I personally created over the years, either for work or personal reasons, and some of these I use daily.

I sometimes acquire spreadsheet type data from external sources, but it is pretty much always as a CSV file.

Word 2003 & Powerpoint 2003:

I seldom use these any more, but I have many old documents which I might need to refer to at some time or other, so it's handy to have the ability to work with them occasionally.

So... given all of the above, which parts of my Office usage could be risky? Are there steps to take to keep those risks to an acceptable level?

If you think I need to replace some or all of the applications, what options would you suggest given my needs?
posted by philipy to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would feel fine with using Word, Excel and PPT in these circumstances - but I would not use Outlook 2003. Look at this list of exploits. Use webmail (gmail) so that attachments (and content) are scanned before they hit your network.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you already use gmail, you can forward your domain emails to your gmail account and use extra "Send mail as" (in the Accounts settings tab) to make outgoing mail work too. If you want to get fancy you can also have gmail automatically tag and sort each domain so it appears differently in your inbox.
posted by Poldo at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: If you don't want to give up desktop email, you might take a look at Thunderbird, specifically with the Lightening extension for calendaring. Thunderbird should offer to import your email and settings from Outlook.
posted by Aleyn at 2:17 PM on March 21, 2014

You should be quite safe, provided that you have a recent operating system (Vista or more recent) and you continue to be very cautious about which files you download/open. As mentioned above, your greatest risk is Outlook, and you never know what exploits could materialize that would bypass your precautions, so I would consider finding a way to stop using it. If you use Windows 8, the Mail app is quite usable for simple email tasks; anything more complex would require an online service (e.g., Gmail or, both very nice to use) or another application. Word, Excel and PowerPoint should be fine.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:26 PM on March 21, 2014

Response by poster: In the past when I've tried webmail I found it pretty limited compared to Outlook. Things like being able to highlight a bunch of msgs with a couple of clicks and drop them in a folder, or sort them by sender rather than date for example. Are things better now?

It looks like Thunderbird is no longer officially supported by Mozilla either.

Any other desktop mail and calendaring applications (not necessarily integrated with each other) that I should consider? I guess I'll test drive a few options before making the jump.

Btw, my OS is Windows 7.
posted by philipy at 5:14 AM on March 23, 2014

Best answer: If you're using a relatively recent browser, you can select a range of messages in Gmail--click the checkbox for one, hold shift while you check another, and all the ones in between get selected. (This may be a lab, rather than default functionality, but I've definitely used it.) You can then label, tag, and do whatever to the whole group.

however, while searching is of course good, I believe Gmail still makes it utterly impossible to sort by anything other than date/most-recent-at-top.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2014

philipy: "It looks like Thunderbird is no longer officially supported by Mozilla either."

Not sure how you figure that. They released an update just a week ago. Granted, Mozilla is mostly just providing bug and security fixes these days and decreasing its involvement in writing new features, but that's still a long ways from unsupported.

Still, here's a decently large list of potential alternatives if you'd like to take a look.
posted by Aleyn at 2:38 PM on March 23, 2014

Response by poster: It's been a while so I will give a progress report on where I've gotten to.

I have Thunderbird and Windows Live Mail working with my accounts now and will probably go with one or other of those after I've played around a bit more.

One issue that comes up with both is that while you can import some info from Outlook 2003, there is no out-of-the-box way to import the old emails. There are a couple of possible workarounds that I found and will look into.

- There is some free software MailStore Home designed for backing up email that can apparently write to a format that Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail could read.

- Thunderbird is supposedly able to import from newer versions of Outlook, but not from 2003. So it may be possible to use a free trial of the latest Office as a staging post for migrating the mails from Outlook 2003 to Thunderbird.

Hopefully this info might be useful to anyone else considering their options as there isn't long to go before the support ends.
posted by philipy at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2014

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