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Document formats like odt and docx and what to do when they won’t open

For as long as I can remember doc format has always been around. The format didn’t really follow any open standards and was even used by WordPerfect in the 1980s. There were compatibility issues from one word processor to another, but for the most part they would open, even if there were formatting errors and everyone was happy.

Over the past couple of years two new open formats have appeared on the scene and they are causing confusion. OpenDocument also known as ODF or by it’s extension odt and Office Open XML or by it’s extension docx. Now in a perfect world you think one of these standards could have been decided on and transferred to the doc extension to make everyone’s life easier, but it’s not a perfect world.

Microsoft feels that everyone needs a new Word Processor every couple of years, but many people are still using old versions of Word which will not open either of these new formats, and of course the newest versions of MS Office still won’t open OpenDocument files out of the box, although there are add-ons that will do the trick.

The real problem in all of this is that the average users doesn’t care what standards are or even what a format is, they just hit save and that’s the format their documents are in. In the case of Open Office that format is an odt file and in the case of Microsoft, it’s a docx file. The nightmare starts here as co-workers send incompatible files back and forth, students get to school only to find out their Open Office assignment that is due in five minutes will not open to print, and the list of scenarios goes on.

Understand your save dialogue box

When you save your documents remember the format you want them in. Will you be able to open this file when you get to school or work? If you are unsure then select the doc option. Yes it’s an older format, but I think 99% of us have not needed a new word update for about the past 10 years. Can you name a new feature that was added in the past few years that you actually use or need? Unless you like the new UI introduced in 2007, then probably not.

Change the default

If you really can’t remember to save your files in doc format or whatever format you need, then change the default. It’s a one time change and may save you much frustration. In both OpenOffice and MS Word it’s found under the options or settings menu under the save section. You will find something like “Save Word files as:” and a drop down of formats. You will probably want something like “Word 97-2004 Document (.doc)” selected.

Google to the rescue

What if you’ve already got yourself into a pickle or a friend has sent you a document you can’t open? Well the good news is you can convert docx or odt files for free with Google docs, all you need is a Google account.

Log into your gmail account and you should see a “documents” link at the top of the page. Select this and Google Docs will open. Now you should see an “upload” button to the left, here you can upload odt, docx and other document formats. You may lose some formatting, but that’s a small price to pay to get your content when you need it, which is probably NOW! You can always reformat it in Google Docs anyway. Once you have it in Google Docs you can open it and go to “File / Download as” and you will see all the popular formats. Is there anything Google can’t do? What am I thinking right now Google?

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