With the advent of Microsoft's latest Office 2007 suite, users will be treated to a new document file type - .docx This will be the proprietary default file type for all Word 2007 documents. However users of previous versions of Microsoft Word will not be able to natively read this new file type.

Document files are usually created by a version of Microsoft Word and end in the .doc format. They usually require you to have a version of Microsoft Word on your computer so that you can open them.

Often a document created in one version of Word cannot be opened in an earlier version of Word. This is part of Microsoft's sometimes controversial and aggressive marketing strategy to try to force users to continually upgrade their versions of Word or Office.

This strategy has been taken to new lengths with Office 2007, where Word 2007 natively saves in a new document format, using the .docx extension. These files are unreadable to users of the popular Microsoft Office 2003 and earlier versions. Typically you click on filename.docx and your computer asks you what you want to do with this unknown file type.

This has not been a popular move and Microsoft has been forced to provide a fix (by millions of users who are sick of the constant Microsoft upgrade debauch). If you have a later version of Microsoft Office (97 onwards) running under Microsoft Windows, click on the following link to download Microsoft's free File Format Converters (27.5MB). This will allow you to read .docx files in Office XP or Office 2003.

(If you are using Office 2004 for Macintosh, go here).

Note that you may be asked to upgrade other parts of your version of Office before the File Format Converters will work, but you won't know until you try to install it. I tried it on an unpatched version of Office 2003 and it worked fine.

If you are using Office Word 2007, then your documents will all be saved as .docx by default. Remember that many other users will be using earlier versions of Office on their systems and may not be able to read your document (screenshot). Again this is Microsoft's strategy to try to force all users to use Office 2007 and it is causing problems for thousands of users who do not understand the ramifications.

To get around this, either send them the link to this page or save your document as a file which is readable by earlier versions of Word. Click on the golden 'orb' in the top left corner of Word 2007 and under the Save As option, select Word 97-2003 document (screenshot). The file will be saved as a .doc and your recipients should be able to read it without any problems.

Open Microsoft Word, click on the Help menu and click on About (screenshot). A window will pop up displaying the version of Word/Office (screenshot).

If you can't see the Help menu, then you may have Office 2007 installed already, as Microsoft in their wisdom have chosen to hide the normal menu bar by default. Press ALT H to bring up the menu help.

Note that Windows and Office are two separate and unrelated pieces of software, but people often confuse the two.

Microsoft Windows is the operating system which runs the whole computer and comes in such flavours as Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows ME and Windows 98.

Microsoft Office is the suite of programs which include Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, etc. and comes on the PC in versions such as Office 2007, Office 2003, Office XP (2002), Office 2000, Office 97, etc. Slightly different versions of Microsoft Office appear on Apple computers.

To see your version of Windows, click on the START button and the click on the RUN option. In the Run box, type winver and click OK (screenshot)

The following information window indicates your version of Microsoft Windows and also indicates which Service Pack (if any) is installed (screenshot)

If you are running Microsoft Windows and have an earlier version of Microsoft Office, or don't have Office installed at all, the following Microsoft Readers will give you read only access to powerpoint (.ppt) and Word (.doc) files. This might also be useful for a user who is using Microsoft Works for Windows, which is a cut-down version of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft Powerpoint 2003 Viewer [1.9MB]

Microsoft Word 2003 Viewer [12MB]

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