The flaw, which could result in lost work, applies to three of the suite's four core applications: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Outlook, the fourth major app, is not affected.
Problems may occur when documents created by one of the three Office 2003 applications include a graphic built with the OfficeArt tool, and are opened and saved by an earlier version of the application--one from Office XP, for instance.
When the document is returned to the Office 2003 app and opened there, it may be corrupted, may not open at all, or may open but with some of its content missing.
Although Office 2003 went through a beta test program that Microsoft called its most extensive ever--including an unprecedented refresh of the second beta that delayed the release of the suite from its original early-summer date to October 2003--the problem still slipped through.
Microsoft has released both client and administrative versions of a fix for the flaw that can be downloaded from its Web site, but it has not yet integrated the patch into its automatic Office Update service.