Why Can’t I Open That Microsoft Word File?

June 10, 2011

A common occurrence; A friend or colleague sends you a Microsoft Word document. You thought you had Microsoft Word, but you can’t open this file. Here’s what’s going on and how to view this file.

There are two possibilities. One is that you were mistaken. You thought you had Microsoft Word on your computer, but you do not. If this is the case, you don’t have to purchase Microsoft Word in order to view the file. You’ve got two options. One option is to download and install the free Microsoft Word Viewer. You can do that by going to this link:


The other option is to download and install OpenOffice.org which is free as well. The difference here is that while installing the Word Viewer will allow you to view the Word document your friend sent you, it won’t let you edit that document and it won’t let you create new documents. OpenOffice.org will let you do all of those things. Be aware, however, that OpenOffice.org, while compatible with Microsoft Word, is not Microsoft Word. So it’s going to look a little different. In addition, OpenOffice.org includes other Microsoft compatible software, not just one that is like Microsoft Word.

If you want to download and install OpenOffice.org just go to, you guessed it, www.openoffice.org.

By the way, the same applies to Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint. There is a free viewer available for each of these or you can use OpenOffice.org.

So those are your options if you do not have Microsoft Word. But what if you have it and you still can’t open the Microsoft Word document that your friend sent you? What is going on in this situation is that your friend has a newer version of Microsoft Word than you do. The newer versions save files in a different format. You can’t open the file because it’s in a newer format that your version of Microsoft Word doesn’t understand. But never fear, there is an easy fix for this. And it’s also free.

All you need to do is download and install the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack. It’s a free download from Microsoft. This gives older versions of Microsoft Office Applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the ability to read the formats used by the newer versions. Be aware, however, that what this does is convert the newer version to the older version. You won’t be able to save the file in the newer version, but you can save it in the older version format. To download the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, go to the link below:



2 Responses to “Why Can’t I Open That Microsoft Word File?”

  1. I do most of my document work in Microsoft Works but nobody else I deal with seems to be able to open those documents, therefore I have to copy each doc into Word so that others can read it. Is there any cure for this. I dislike having to create docs in Word because I find Works much easier for me to work in. But its a pain in the butt to always have to copy something into Word.

  2. Hi Ara.

    It used to be that most every computer came with MS Works on it, so everybody had it. But Microsoft abandoned it and hasn’t updated it since 2002. MS Works is pretty much a dead product now and most people don’t have it.

    If you don’t like using Word and you aren’t doing anything super fancy, I would recommend you give Wordpad a try. Wordpad is a little known hidden gem that has come with Windows since Windows 95, so everybody has it. Wordpad saves files in the RTF (Rich Text Format) format which is a standard that has been around a while.

    To give it a try, click on start and then type Wordpad and hit enter. Once it’s running, if you like it, be sure and right-click on the icon in the taskbar and choose “Pin this program to the taskbar” so that you can just click on it in the taskbar in the future when you run it.

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