Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dealing with a DOCX file

Scenario: your friend sent you an email with a file attached. It has the extension .docx. When you try to open the attachment, unhappiness results -- you see garbledy-gook, or whatever program launched complains that it doesn't know what to do, or your computer says it doesn't know which program to use to open the file. Perhaps this happens even if you have a version of Microsoft Word installed. What to do?

There are several options, which I'll list here, and then describe in more detail below.

  1. Get yourself a Gmail account. Gmail can display DOCX attachments right in your browser.
  2. If you have an older version of MS Word, download Microsoft's "compatibility pack."
  3. Save the attachment as a file, and then use the online utility Zamzar to convert it.
  4. But wait, there's more!

[Added] I probably went into too much detail below, so let me just throw in this quick interjection: If this is a one-time problem, the easiest thing to do is this: (1) Save the DOCX attachment to a file. (2) Visit the free online file conversion service Zamzar, whose interface is self-explanatory. It's really not anymore complicated than that. The rest of what follows in this post considers the problem of getting DOCX files more generally.


Get yourself a Gmail account.

There are lots of reasons to get a Gmail account, even if you don't want it to be your primary account, and here is one of them -- Gmail can display many different kinds of attachments in a new tab in your browser. Here's what you'd see if you got sent the same DOCX file I did:

screen shot of Gmail showing attachment with View option

And if you click the View link, you'd see this, in a new tab (actual content has been grayed out):

screen shot of Google Docs displaying a DOCX file(embiggen)

It does take a few seconds for Google Docs to translate a lengthy DOCX doc, but once it's ready, the interface is quite nice.

Even if you prefer to deal with your regular email in another way, because you don't want to change your address or because you like the email program or other webmail service you use, it's worth having a Gmail account in addition. Lots of handy tools like this, lots of free space, and if you like, integration with your other email addresses and programs.

So, to handle the DOCX file you have now, just forward the attachment from your existing email account to your (new?) Gmail account.

Download Microsoft's "compatibility pack."

If you think it's likely that you'll have to deal with more DOCX files in the future, not to mention other files generated by newer versions of MS Office, and you're not ready to upgrade your older version of Word/Office, you'll probably want to do this. It's painless. Here's how it went for me.

When I downloaded the DOCX attachment from my Gmail account and then double-clicked it, my version of Word (MS Word 2002 SP3) fired up and said this:

screen shot of MS Word 2002 complaining about file format coming from newer version of Word(embiggen)

I clicked okay and was taken to the "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint File Formats" page. I clicked the download button, got taken to a new page, and from there, downloaded FileFormatConverters.exe. (This is a 37 MB file, so if you're on a slow connection, you may want to plan accordingly.) Once the file finished downloading, I double-clicked it and the installation proceeded without drama. I didn't even have to restart Word; just using the menu choice File→Open to load the DOCX file worked fine. There was a momentary delay while the conversion occurred, which Word noted in the status bar:

screen shot MS Word converting a DOCX file after the file has been opened by Word(embiggen)

From thereon out, it was just like any other Word session.

Once you have finished the installation, you can delete the file FileFormatConverters.exe.


Users of the Microsoft Office XP and 2003 programs Word, Excel, or PowerPoint—please install all High-Priority updates from Microsoft Update before downloading the Compatibility Pack.

You should be up to date if you've got Automatic Updates turned on, but to be extra-safe, you can double-check by visiting (using Internet Explorer). If you don't have Automatic Updates turned on, definitely do this, because there have been some security holes associated with MS Word and it is possible for malware to be hidden in certain kinds of Word documents.

Further DOCX-related reading and links, on Microsoft's site, starting here, here, and here.

And finally:

Note: If you use Microsoft Word 2000 or Microsoft Word 2002 to read or write documents containing complex scripts, please see 925451 for information to enable newer versions of Word documents to be displayed correctly in your version of Word.

Use Zamzar to convert to a new file format

Zamzar logo

When I Googled DOCX, I came across this helpful post by Jason Clarke of the Download Squad, which introduced me to Zamzar. Zamzar is a great service, it can handle quite a few different file formats, and you should bookmark it immediately.

Couldn't ask for a much simpler interface …

Zamzar interface for file conversion(embiggen)

… and it works just as advertised. I visited Zamzar twice. The first time I converted my DOCX file to a regular DOC file, the second, to a PDF file. In both cases I got an email from Zamzar within minutes, and both converted versions look fine.

If you are the person creating DOCX files, observe that you could upload your file and then put in the address of the person to whom you want to send it.

There is one theoretical concern here: a privacy/security issue. You are uploading a copy of your file to someone else's server, and the converted version is also stored on that server. Zamzar says they delete the files after 24 hours, and there's no reason to suspect otherwise, but in principle, the possibility of snooping exists, so be aware of it. (On the other hand, if you're emailing unencrypted attachments around, you're already doing this.)

Zamzar also offers three levels of paid service. These allow you to upload more and bigger files, keep them from being deleted, get your files to be converted put at the head of the queue, etc. There's no reason to do this if you'll only be doing the occasional conversion, but if you think you'll be doing lots of it, you might have a look.

Other possibilities

While investigating the three options described above, I was reminded of some other possibilities that I did not try explicitly try with the DOCX file I was sent. I'll note them here briefly.

• The low-tech solution: Ask your friend to take advantage of Word's File→Save As feature:

screen shot of MS Word 'Save As' dialog box(embiggen)

One of the options will be to save the file in DOC format, instead of DOCX. Asking your friend to re-save and re-email may be an annoyance, but for a one-off, it shouldn't be a big deal. Especially if your friend wants you to read the file!

• Word Viewer: A free program from Microsoft, described thus:

View, print and copy Word documents, even if you don't have Word installed. This download is a replacement for Word Viewer 2003 and all previous Word Viewer versions.

I've used earlier versions of this in the past, and they worked fine.

• A free and open source office suite designed as an alternative to Microsoft Office. Since version 3, it has been able to read Microsoft's DOCX format; the latest version as of this posting is v.3.2.1. I've used it in the past and been pretty happy -- it has long been able to handle any MS Office file that I threw at it -- but I haven't had the need for an office suite in a while, so I can't comment on the latest version.

1 comment:

Samsul said...

nice share. luckily I use, so I don't bother looking for docx viewer :-)