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Opening legacy docs in MS Word Apps
Word 2011 now opens oldest Word document formats.

I've been using Word for the Mac since v1.0, so I have a lot of older documents created in early versions. At some point I discovered that Word (I forget which version) dropped support for the earliest document formats -- you could retrieve the text, but that was it. I complained to Microsoft and was basically told 'tough patooties.'

So it was a very pleasant surprise when I went to open an early document, resigned to the prospect of extracting the text (the file was so old it had even lost its type and creator codes and looked like a Unix file to the Finder; I had to choose 'Open any file' to select it) and Word opened it with all formatting, styles etc. completely intact!

Okay, so maybe this doesn't qualify as a hint, but it is sure nice to know.

[crarko adds: I don't have any ancient Word documents left to try this out with, but a hint with 'tough patooties' in it seems like the perfect way to start the new year.]
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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: Pierre Igot on Jan 03, '12 11:56:57AM

I am afraid this "hint" is simply incorrect. I have old Word 3/4 documents from 1988/1989 that Word 2011 (or Word 2008 for that matter) is simply unable to open, no matter which option I choose. When I try to open them, Word throws a "Convert File" dialog box asking me to choose a file format to convert from, but "Word 3 document" and "Word 4 document" are not listed as options and "Rich Text Format" does not work.

There is also an option called "Recover text from any file" (which is apparently a file format in MS's parlance) but it fails to preserve accented characters, so even that option is useless. For such files, my only option is to force-open them in TextEdit, which at least preserves the accents. (Take that, Microsoft.)

Word 2011 is indeed able to open Word 5 documents, but not via double-click or drag-and-drop. You are obliged to go through the Open File dialog box for each file. If you make sure that the file name includes ".doc", you don't have to use any special options to open them. (Be aware, however, that some Word 5 documents will cause Word 2011 to crash or freeze, presumably because of the nature of some of their contents, so you have no guarantee here either.)

Microsoft's inability to support its own older file formats is scandalous, but we are used to such disregard for usability and data integrity from the world's biggest software developers, I am afraid.

In light of these shortcomings in Word 2011 and Lion's lack of support for older versions of Word, I made sure to convert all my older Word documents before upgrading to Lion:

"Getting ready for Lion: Converting old files"


Pierre Igot
LATEXT - Literature, Music & Visuals @
BETALOGUE - Weblog at

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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: chicagobear on Jan 03, '12 12:15:28PM

i just tried it and it didn't work for me...i'm using word 2011 14.1.4 on snow leopard 10.6.8. i tried to open an old document that was created in 1994, and all i got was a blank document. i did a "select all" and tried to change the font, but then i got a bunch of squares...was there anything else that you had to do?

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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: kevinp on Jan 03, '12 02:47:15PM

I'm really pleased that this is working so well for you but success is not guaranteed. I tried it to open a few (really) old Word files using version 14.4.1 of Word for Mac 2011 (which claims to be the latest). The files were generated on a Mac in 1989, my best recollection is that they were produced with Word 3.01.

Word for Mac 2011 offers to open them but doesn't really recognize the format. None of its suggestions make sense except for the "last ditch" option "recover text from any file." This does indeed recover the text and some of the formatting. However, the real contents of the file are interspersed with other text. For example, where I had generated a letter by modifying another, then the deleted stuff is there as well (There were no stationary pads in 1989!) It would take a lot of effort to tease out the original and also recreate the format.

Fortunately I had already recovered these files earlier this year using a very old copy of Word 5a as I still have one Mac left that will run Classic. I saved them as Word 5 files that I was then able to open with version 11 of Word from Office for Mac 2004 and re-save them in a format that the latest Word would open. I had to do this before the Lion upgrade since the 2004 version required Rosetta.

Isn't software archeology fun?


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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: chicagobear on Jan 03, '12 03:43:14PM

hi kevin,

was there a fast way to convert those documents to a format that word 2011 could read? or did you have to do each of them one by one?

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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: ascanio on Jan 03, '12 11:29:17PM

You had interspersed and deleted text in the file because it was saved with the "fast save" option (usually default at the time). This allowed a faster save of the file, when the machines were quite slow, just adding the changes at the original saved files and keeping note of it. It was also the best way to lose a file in a crash event.
If the Word file were saved as new, you could have been recovering everything.
Fortunately this is no longer meaningful, and I think the option does not even exist anymore.

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Only Legacy Word Documents
Authored by: S Barman on Jan 04, '12 05:43:49AM

I saw the headline in my RSS feed and was excited. I was hoping to see the ability to open old WordPerfect documents that I have since I switched from a PC (2002?). I have not found a free or low cost solution to convert those .wp and .wpd files. Anyone have ideas?

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Only Legacy Word Documents
Authored by: rodl2 on Jan 04, '12 01:50:05PM

I've found that LibreOffice is able to open most wpd files.

"He who limps still walks." -Stanislaw Lec

Firefox: Rediscover the web

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Re: WordPerfect documents
Authored by: Uncle Asad on Jan 04, '12 03:08:08PM

Grr, Macworld, this is not spam! Trying again as plain text.


For WordPerfect documents, you have two “meta-options”: use the last version of WordPerfect for Macintosh inside a Mac OS emulator, or use any of the applications that employ the libwpd library[1] to open WordPerfect files.

Using WordPerfect for Macintosh usually isn’t the best option for people who predominantly have PC WordPerfect files, but for those with WP-Mac files or who want great integration (Finder, Spotlight, Quick Look) with Mac OS X, the WordPerfect-Mac community[2] has kept the venerable program alive and well in the modern age.

For the other meta-option (usually the better option for users with PC WordPerfect files who just want to convert them), any of the NeoOffice[3]/LibreOffice[4]/[5] trio will get the job done and let you save the WP docs to a number of common formats. All three use roughly the same codebase; NeoOffice tends to be more Mac-focused and have better Mac integration, LibreOffice tends to have the most development on the general office software code (and will be “ahead” of NeoOffice by a version or two), and, which used to be the “parent” program of both NeoOffice and LibreOffice, is still finding its way post-Sun Microsystems (and I personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone given the alternatives).

Based on what you’ve said, either NeoOffice or LibreOffice will be the best option for opening and converting your .wpd files; check them out and decide for yourself which you prefer :-) (The older version of NeoOffice is freely available and will convert WP docs just fine.)

Disclaimer: I’m a member of the WordPerfect-Mac community (and a co-author of some of the tools), a sometime-contributor to the libwpd project, a member of the NeoOffice Community Relations team, and generally a supporter, in no capacity, of The Document Foundation’s efforts to liberate the former code as LibreOffice.


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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: Keir-thomas on Jan 05, '12 08:10:37AM

Here's a potential solution.

You can download the last DOS version of Microsoft Word free of charge. Here's the link:

This will probably understand the old file types, and you might be able to output them as something like Rich Text files, which all modern word processors understand.

You can run this in DosBox, a DOS emulator, for which a version is available for Macs:

Here's some old instructions I wrote for a book a few years ago for doing all this using Ubuntu and DOSBox. The instructions can be adapted for Mac:

1. The first thing to do is create a virtual hard disk for DOSBox by creating an empty folder in your /home folder—you can call it any- thing, but drive_c is a good a name as any.

2. Download the old DOS version of Microsoft Word. It’s freeware nowadays and is just over 3MB in size.

3. Copy the downloaded file into your virtual hard disk folder. Then start DOSBox and connect to the virtual hard disk you created earlier by typing mount C foldername, replacing 'foldername' with the name of the folder. Then switch to the new hard drive by typing C:.

4. Still in the DOSBox window, type Wd55_ben.exe to uncompress the installer. You’ll see a few errors about files that already exist. Just ignore the errors—overwrite or don’t overwrite. It’s up to you.

5. Once the decompression has finished, type setup.exe to run the installer. Work through the installation options. Don’t let Word alter your system settings or add a new mouse driver—DOSBox takes care of all that for you.

6. Once installation has finished, type word.exe to run Word. Then open and then save your files in a new format.

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Opening legacy docs in MS Word
Authored by: JimMueller on Feb 02, '12 03:19:58PM

Was not only MS that dropped support for legacy formats. Apple did the same with early MacWrite files. Diskette space was at a premium back then - the files were written compressed to take up as little room as possible so extracting the text just did not work (they were pure gibberish). I believe when MacWrite v5 came out, suddenly we could not open our archived writings. Oddly, I recall Word at the time would still open them.
Years later when we were moving to a floppy-free environment we copied all the files from diskettes - including the 400k diskettes that only a Quadra 610 running MacOS 7.5 would recognize since support for the first Mac diskettes was dropped in 7.6 - but newer versions of Word had dropped support for old MacWrite files completely. That Quadra acted as our bridge to the past as it not only opened 400k diskettes and ran Word 5.1, but it also had Ethernet (via the appropriate AAUI dongle) so it could save the converted files directly to our file server.

We also had files from MegaPlan and Microsoft File (gaaagh!) that we just gave up on trying to find a converter for. We salvaged what text we could out of them and just destroyed the diskettes.

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