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How to Open Word Files in Older Versions of Microsoft Office Word

Maintaining file compatibility can mean finding file conversion options.

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

If you've been accustomed to opening files from newer versions of Microsoft Word in older versions of the software, the error messages you see when you try to open the program's DOCX files in Word 2003 under Windows, Word for Mac 2004 or earlier program versions come as an unwelcome surprise. The DOCX file format offers some useful additions and security-minded changes, but if your roster of office hardware includes systems that can't open this newer software version, you can take advantage of multiple approaches to file compatibility.

New Office File Formats

For the first time in the history of the Microsoft Office application suite, Microsoft fundamentally altered the software's default file and template formats with the launch of Office 2007 for Windows and Office for Mac 2008. Familiar file extensions, including the .doc Word default, sprouted an "x" at the end, and users who still relied on earlier Office versions discovered they no longer could open files created in newer versions. In addition to format changes, Microsoft added new file types that lack support for macros, enabling users to share documents with other users without the risk of embedded malware that automation features can be misused to incorporate.

New File Features

Microsoft Word's new Open-XML-based file format provides support for new content enhancements, helps minimize the chances of data corruption, can compress file content to produce smaller documents and debuts a file type that moves away from proprietary data structures. In addition to internal changes and improvements such as document themes and styles, the DOCX file format includes new content features, including SmartArt graphics. These informational graphics go beyond what you can accomplish with bullets, outlines, or embedded or linked elements from other Office programs. Additionally, Word offers enhanced support for equations and bibliographies.

Microsoft's Conversion Options

Microsoft offers users of older versions of Word three options to enable them to open, view, edit and save DOCX files. First, Windows users can download and install the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, and Mac users can access the Open XML File Format Converter for Mac (see Resources). Before you install the Windows version of this update, verify that you've updated your copy of Windows and your installation of Word with the most recent patches and service packs. Second, you can download and install the Microsoft Word Viewer, which enables you to open DOCX files so you can view their contents, copy from and print them. Finally, you can request that a colleague or coworker save a DOCX file in DOC format from her copy of a later version of Word. Although converted files retain most of the features of the original DOCX version, some newer content options appear in altered form, reflecting the older Word versions' lack of support for them. Note that if the file you need to convert uses the new version of one of Word's template formats, the converters can't help you.

Other Options

If you use one of the open-source office suites available for Windows and the Mac, including Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice or the Mac-only NeoOffice, the Writer applications contained within these products offer the ability to convert DOCX files to DOC format. You can download and install these applications at no charge. Avoid saving your DOCX files in the open-source ODT file format, however, because only the versions of Word that create and open DOCX files natively -- without the installation of converters and helpers -- can open it.


Can't Open a Word Document in Windows (Microsoft Word)

Clive has a system that just hasn't worked correctly since he installed and then removed Open Office. Now, when he double-clicks a Word document in Windows Explorer, the document doesn't open. Instead, what he gets is a blank document. He can still open the documents using File | Open (within Word), but cannot double-click to open a document.

The first thing to check is to make sure that the file extensions are correctly associated with Word. Since double-clicking on a Word document in Windows Explorer opens Word, the file types are probably associated correctly, but it doesn't hurt to go through the steps anyway. From the command line, use the following command:

"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\winword.exe" /unregserver

The quotes are necessary, but you may need to change the path so it reflects the location of the winword.exe file on your system. (You can use Windows' Search tool to locate the path to the winword.exe file.) The /unregserver switch "unhooks" all the references to Word in the Windows Registry. You should then, immediately, use the following command:

"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\winword.exe" /regserver

This command causes Word to rewrite all its Registry keys and to reassociate itself with document and template files. Now you can double-click a document file and see if Windows starts Word and opens the document.

If this does not work, you'll need to try a few other things. First, start Word and let it try to detect and repair any problems with itself. Do this by choosing Detect and Repair from the Help menu. Word displays the Detect and Repair dialog box. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Detect and Repair dialog box.

Accept the default settings (only Restore My Shortcuts While Repairing is selected), then click OK. Word may ask you to insert the original installation CD-ROM, depending on what it detects and needs to repair.

If that still doesn't work, the problem is most likely rooted in the default action for the DOC file type being set to "New" instead of "Open." To correct this problem, follow these steps in Windows, while Word is closed:

  1. Use Windows Explorer to open a folder window. (It doesn't matter which folder; any of them will do.)
  2. Choose Folder Options from the Tools menu. Windows displays the Folder Options dialog box.
  3. Make sure the File Types tab is displayed. (See Figure 2.)
  4. Figure 2. The File Types tab of the Folder Options dialog box.

  5. Scroll through the list of Registered File Types until you find the option for DOC files. Select this option.
  6. Click the Advanced button. Windows displays the Edit File Type dialog box. (See Figure 3.)
  7. Figure 3. The Edit File Type dialog box.

  8. The dialog box lists a series of actions that can be performed on DOC files. One of those actions should be shown in bold-face type. Normally it is the Open action that is in bold. If it is in bold, skip to step 10.
  9. Click once on the Open action.
  10. Click Set Default. The Open action should now be shown in bold-face type.
  11. Skip to step 19.
  12. Double-click the Open action. Windows opens the Editing Action dialog box. (See Figure 4.)
  13. Figure 4. The Editing Action dialog box.

  14. Make sure the Action box contains &Open.
  15. Make sure the Application Used to Perform Action contains the following. (The path shown may need to be modified for your particular system and version of Word.)
  16. "D:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" /n /dde
  17. Make sure the Use DDE check box is selected.
  18. Make sure the DDE Message box contains the following:
  19. [REM _DDE_Direct][FileOpen("%1")]
  20. Make sure the Application box contains the word WinWord.
  21. The DDE Application Not Running box should be empty.
  22. Make sure the Topic box contains the word System.
  23. Click OK to close the Editing Action dialog box.
  24. Click OK to close the Edit File Type dialog box.
  25. Click OK to close the Folder Options dialog box.

You should now be able to double-click a Word document in Windows Explorer and have it open the actual document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (316) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. Learn more about Allen...

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Word Slow to Open Documents (Microsoft Word)

There are times when opening a document in Word can be slow. For instance, if the document is quite large, or if it contains a lot of complex graphics, if it contains a lot of linked data from other sources, or if you have saved it quite often with Word's Fast Save feature turned on.

There are other times, however, when opening a document can be downright painful—for instance, when it takes four minutes (or longer) to open a document that is only 800 KB in size. In these instances, the reason for the slowness may not be immediately evident. This is where a little bit of detective work comes into play.

The first thing to check is whether the document is on your computer or not. If the document is on a different computer in your network, then the problem could be either the other computer or even the network itself. Sometimes, if the network is configured improperly, communication across the network can slow to a crawl. This type of slowdown should affect other programs on your computer, however, when you need to access remote data from those programs. Thus, if opening remote documents is slow in all of your programs, then you should check your network and the other computer. If you suspect this problem, you will need to chat with your network administrator to see what can be done.

If the problem is evident in all documents on your computer (they are all slow in opening), then you may want to check your virus protection software. It could be that it is slowing down opening files. The only way to determine if this is the case is to disable virus protection—at least for the length of your test—to see if the problem goes away. If it does, then you should either check with the publisher of the virus protection software for an update, or look at getting a different virus protection program.

There are other things to try if the problem is evident in all of the documents you open. When Word is not running, make sure you delete all the temporary files that Word may have left lying around various folders in your system. Look for files that end with the TMP extension, or files that being with the tilde (~) character. If your file folders become very cluttered with these temporary files, it can slow Word down immensely. You can find out more information about Word's temporary files at this Knowledge Base article:


Another thing to try is to start Word with the /a switch on the command line. This causes it to load without also loading different startup files such as add-ins and macros. If this fixes the problem, then you can bet that the slowdown is caused by one of those add-ins or macros. You might also rename the Normal.dot (or Normal.dotm) file; if it is corrupted then it can slow down response times. (Renaming the file causes Word to create a clean, fresh, empty one the next time you start the program.)

When the problem is limited to a single document, then there are a couple of things to try. First, is the file stored on some sort of removable media, such as a flash drive or other external drive? Opening a file on some removable media can be excruciatingly slow. This is not only because reading the file is slow, but because Word also tries to create its own temporary files on the removable media. This may quickly fill up the media and cause very slow response times.

Another thing to check is if the file contains lots of links to external resources. For instance, if it contains linked images, linked charts, or linked spreadsheet objects. All the links in a document are refreshed when a document is opened, and the refreshing sequence can be very time consuming. This is particularly true if the source files that need to be opened by Word (the ones containing the images, charts, and spreadsheets) are on a network drive and that network drive is either not available or suffering from slow communication speeds.

You should also open the file and check to see what template file is attached to the document. If the document is trying to use a non-existent template file, or one that is no longer accessible through a network connection, then Word may "stall" as it tries over and over again to find the template.

Finally, if the document still won't open quickly, it could be because the document itself is corrupted. You can check this out by following these general steps:

  1. Open the slow document. (Maybe you will need to take a coffee break while it opens.)
  2. Open a new, blank document.
  3. In the slow document, press Ctrl+Home to go to the beginning of the document.
  4. Press Shift+Ctrl+End. This should select everything from the beginning of the document to the end.
  5. Press Shift+Left Arrow. This "deselects" the final paragraph mark in the document.
  6. Press Ctrl+C to copy the selection to the Clipboard.
  7. In the new, blank document, press Ctrl+V. This pastes the copied information to the new document.
  8. Close the old document and save the new document.

This should clear up any corruption problems associated with a document. You will be able to tell if it solved your slow opening problem by opening the newly saved document and seeing if it opens quicker than the original one.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1328) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. Learn more about Allen...

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