Lots of options for working with .doc and .docx

It’s been thIcon for .docx filesree years now, but Microsoft’s switch from the .doc file type to the .docx file type is still causing consternation for some people. At issue is this: the older versions do not open .docx files by default, but .docx files are what newer versions produce by default.

Think about your contacts outside the IU network. You might do work or at least have regular interactions with K-12 school districts or education professionals in other countries. In either case, it’s possible that someone is running Word 2003 or earlier and groaning every time you send a .docx down the pike. Fortunately, that problem is within your power to control. This post will tell you how.

The .docx evolution, and how to devolve it …

First, what is a .docx? It’s the Microsoft Word file format introduced with Office 2007 and still in use with the recently-released Office 2010. If you’re running one of these versions, every new document you create is a .docx, and all your files are compatible. If you’re running any earlier version (2003, 2000, 97, etc.), every new document you create is a .doc. When you see a .docx, the x probably reads like symbol that means None Shall Pass.

Here’s a recommendation aimed at the .docx user. If you know or suspect that some of your colleagues are still using .doc files, be kind and back-save. Every time you open a new Word document, select File >> Save As, and pick “Word 97-2003 Document” (or, if you’re using a Mac, “Word 97-2004 Document”) from the dropdown menu.

Back-saving a .docx file

So you forgot to back-save …

… and your colleague who’s running Word 2003 on a PC is going to go nuts if he can’t open the .docx you just sent. Well, you could just back-save it and send it again, but remember what they say about teaching a man to fish. Recommend to your colleague that he install a compatibility pack to open up .docx files. The pack is free, and it’s located at the Download Center at Microsoft.com . A word of advice for him, too: when downloading add-ons, plug-ins, or anything else that augments a larger piece of software, it helps to be conscientious about where those extras are coming from. It’s usually a good sign when the manufacturer of both the extra and the program itself are the same, as in this case.

So you forgot to back-save again

… and your colleague who’s running Word 2004 on a Mac is having the same problem. It’s generally agreed that there are two options, both free, for opening .docx files on a Mac. Either install the Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.0 Update Package; or the Open XML File Format Converter for Mac. Follow the links to download one or the other, or both (downloading both increases the chances of file compatibility without harming the computer). Note also that these downloads are Microsoft-authored, so this colleague can rest easy, too.

Cheaters never prosper, except sometimes …

Download-restricted computers are a fact of life in some workplaces. Installing compatibility packs, updates, or converters isn’t always an option for the user whose computer is thus shackled. However, it’s still possible to view .docx content in these cases using a number of workarounds. OK, so it’s not exactly “cheating”, but these tricks tend to unlock .docx content by circumventing Word entirely.

Anyone trying these workarounds should be advised that they are largely trial-and-error fixes. Their success depends on many factors, so if one doesn’t work, try another, and another, etc.

First, right- or command-clicking a .docx file allows the user to open it in a different word processing program. On a PC, WordPad is a good option. On a Mac, TextEdit works. Some users might also have access to an open-source word processor like OpenOffice, but then the program has to be a more recent version that supports .docx files. Otherwise, the whole process returns to Square One.

A PC-only solution (sorry, Macophiles) is to right-click a .docx file and compress it. The command for this is Send To >> Compressed File. This produces a .zip file saved in the same location as the original. Right-clicking the .zip file allows the user to extract the files stored in it. Among the extracted files, there should be one named document.xml. Right-clicking this file opens a menu from which the content may be opened in a web browser, such as Internet Explorer.

What about PowerPoint and Excel?

Word is but one program among many included in the Microsoft Office suite. The .docx file type has two familiar cousins – Powerpoint’s .pptx and Excel’s .xlsx – both of which have their origin in the 2007 release of Microsoft Office and still exist in the 2010 release. These file types are readable in older versions of PowerPoint and Excel by installing the same add-ons listed earlier in this post: the compatibility pack for PC; and either the update package or the file converter for Mac.

Finally, this is as good a time as any to mention that PC-to-Mac correlatives for Microsoft Office begin and end with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Other Office programs are single-platform tools only. For example, PC’s Outlook is not the same as Mac’s Entourage; there is no version of PC’s Visio for Mac, etc.

But that’s probably another post entirely.

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