Visio has been around for over 15 years, and there have been many product versions released. One of the biggest issues that can impact users from release to release is a file format change. Changes in Visio's file format can be painful for customers because people must often share documents with others who are using a different version of the product. Let's look at this issue in depth.
Until recently Visio changed its file format with every major release. This change was not as painful for customers as it is today because most people exchanged drawings within a much smaller circle of users - usually others in the same department who would have the same version of Visio installed. As Visio gained more customers and those customers shared their drawings with other groups, version incompatibility became more commonplace.
Visio file format history
Default file format
Backward save format
Visio 4.0, Visio 4.1, Visio 4.5
Visio 5.0, Visio 5.0 Plus
Visio 2000, Visio 2002
Visio 2003, Visio 2007
Visio 2002 was the first major release to maintain the same file format as the previous release. Visio 2003 once again introduced a new file format. Visio 2007 will use the same format as Visio 2003. Every version of Visio is capable of reading all older files. Visio 2007 can open a Visio 1.0 document. Generally, each version of Visio is capable of writing back one file version as well. Thus Visio 2003 can save a file out in 6.0 format (readable by Visio 2000 and Visio 2002), but it cannot save out a 5.0 format or earlier. When saving to an older format, some features and information may be lost if the older Visio does not support those features.
Why change the file format? To add features and new capabilities. Visio 2000 introduced a new file format to allow vastly larger and more complex diagrams to be created. Internal limits on the number of shapes and other items were removed. The most recent change for Visio 2003 was required to introduce Unicode text throughout the application, though we took advantage of the change to build in some other great features as well.
Will the file format change again in the future? It might, but Visio must be mindful of the problems a change can cause for customers. Word, Excel and PowerPoint have a new file format in Office 2007 . One of the things Microsoft is doing to make this transition go more smoothly is to release a compatibility update to Office 2000, XP and 2003. Those versions can then read and write the new format. Perhaps Visio should consider this approach.
In the meantime, how do you deal with file incompatibilities? The first option is to have the document author save the drawing as an older file version. A second option is for the document author to publish the drawing using the Save As Web Page feature. If you have received a document that was created in a newer version, you can also download the free Visio Viewer to at least view and print the document. File incompatibility can be frustrating, but hopefully you now know what versions of Visio work with each format.