The patch targets large computer makers that factory-install Microsoft Office on new PCs before they're shipped to dealers or customers.
As ZDNet blogger Ed Bott first reported, Microsoft's OEM Partner Center now includes a prominent notice and a link to a 13MB update. "Microsoft has released a supplement for Office 2007 (October 2009)," the site reads. "The following patch is required [emphasis in original] for the United States.
"After this patch is installed, Word will no longer read the Custom XML elements contained within DOCX, DOCM, or XML files," the notice continues. "These files will continue to open, but any Custom XML elements will be removed."
Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District ordered Microsoft to stop selling current versions of Word and Office as of Jan. 11, 2010, part of a ruling that rejected Microsoft's appeal of a jury verdict that awarded Canadian developer i4i nearly $300 million in damages. The lower court judge in the patent infringement case had also slapped an injunction on Microsoft to block it from selling Word in the U.S.
The injunction was to take effect Oct. 10, 2009, but Microsoft won a stay while the appeals court heard the case.
Rather than stop selling Word 2007, and the money-making Office 2007 that includes the word processor, Microsoft will yank the offending XML editing technology -- dubbed "Custom XML" -- from Word. Tuesday, the company said it had been planning for the eventuality, and would have its ducks in a row by Jan. 11.
"With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products," said Kevin Kutz, the director of public affairs for Microsoft, in an e-mail. "Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date."
Microsoft is not obligated to modify already-purchased copies of Word via a software update, but only to remove the i4i technology from the programs sold starting Jan. 11.
Although Microsoft will be responsible for revamping Word and Office for retail distribution, then swapping out new copies for those on shelves, many computer makers pre-load the popular suite on their PCs. They would need time to get the revised Word and Office onto new machines, and those machines into their retail and distribution channels.
According to Bott, Microsoft's OEM partners were first notified Monday via e-mail of an upcoming patch required for Office 2007. The Tuesday release of the patch gives OEMs just under three weeks to re-load already-built PCs or replace them with machines with the revised Office 2007 before the Jan. 11 deadline.
The world's two largest computer sellers -- Dell and Hewlett-Packard -- sided with Microsoft in its appeal of the injunction last summer, and warned that the original Oct. 11 deadline would wreak havoc with sales. In their amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs, Dell and HP asked that compliance with any injunction be delayed until 120 days after a decision was made.
Dell and HP have far less time than that to implement the changes to Office 2007 on their inventory, or swap out PCs already in the channel with new ones. HP did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday; the company's offices are closed until Jan. 4.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer, send e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .