Please Do Not Send ANYONE docx files!

Recently a friend innocently sent me a DOCX file. People sending these appears to be a growing problem. Thus I must post some thoughts on the use of Microsoft’s closed file formats – especially the latest travesty: the “X” files.

Please Do Not Send ANYONE DOCX files! The same applies to any of Microsoft’s newest file formats from Office 2007: XLSX, PPTX.

[If you just want the HOWTO at this moment, you may skip to Suggestions.]

While there has always been a concern about sending people Microsoft’s older formats (e.g. Word 97-2000-XP), the problem has been raised a quantum level higher by the new formats in Office 2007!

If you have Microsoft Office 2007, you may not even know you are sending problematic files. Without intervention, this situation is the default if your brand new computer has MS Office 2007! The application uses the —X file formats by default, and the file manager by default turns off viewing extensions. So you innocently think you are just sending a “word” (word processor)” file! … Once you are aware of the issues concerning file formats and Microsoft monopoly shenanigans, you may follow my suggestions to do your part for interoperability – and freedom!

Most recent office suites can read and write the older DOC/XLS/PPT files (sometimes better than MS Office: can often open “broken” Word files!). … But … The only people who can read DOCX (or anyX) natively are those with the very newest version of MS Word (2007). Many people. even with MS Word 2003, won’t know what to do with these “X” files!!

Now there are ways to read these, but even then, the “X” files may not display as you intended, particularly if the same fonts (1) are not available on the receiver’s machine.
Users of some older Microsoft Office products can apply compatibility patches. Those of us who use the newest ( -2010) can read them. Still, fonts and formatting may vary: and there are problems with Microsoft’s formats even being incompatible with their OOXML “standard” which they forced through the international standards organization!

A Little Background

At one time there were many and various file formats. Do you remember WordPerfect? How about XyWrite, WordPro, Nota Bene, PFS:Write, Volkswriter? There were hundreds. (And woe unto one who needs to decode an old file in a proprietary format no longer used!)

Of course, through strategic marketing (i.e. monopoly practices), Microsoft eventually came to dominate the office suite software market, pushing aside even the arguably superior WordPerfect. Their formats became a de facto standard, in that competitors had to at least reasonably be able to work with them. Then being a shrewd monopolist, Microsoft saw that the best way to perpetuate their monopoly was to:

  • periodically change their formats
  • do not release their code, so competitors would have to play “catch up”

This aggravated many people – businesses, governments, and citizens, who found themselves forced to purchase repeated expensive upgrades, with nominal increases in utility – most of which were of no use to most users anyway. Some hung on to other vendors’ software, and dreamed: “Oh that we could have a standard format that any software could use, and share freely!” Until the rise of, there really was little alternative, though: it was just a dream.

With the rise of, a little space started to open and the idea of interoperability got some momentum. Microsoft even signed on to the bandwagon somewhat — once they realized that certain businesses and governments (particularly in the European Union) were going to demand open formats. People set to work to establish an ISO-approved (International Organization for Standardization) open file format standard, the OpenDocument Format (ODF). The intent was to have formats with open standards, so all who followed the standards could inter-operate and share files. For more information, see:

While Microsoft initially cooperated in ODF, they eventually decided that it was in their interests to advance a competing standard, OOXML. Then they could continue to add undocumented “features,” and continue the “catch up” game with competitors. They then played many tricks to force their competing “standard” through the ISO: such as recruiting selected businesses in small countries to “join” solely to vote in favor of their “standard. It was close but they eventually got their way. Ironically, the market may well have moved too fast for them, as many governments and businesses are embracing ODF! (Ironically, the implementation of the OOXML “standard” in Office 2007, does not even fully conform to that which actually was forced through!) … Can you trust this company?

More Reasons to shun even Word (DOC) formats

From Richard Stallman, We Can Put an End to Word Attachments:

Receiving Word attachments is bad for you because they can carry viruses. Sending Word attachments is bad for you, because a Word document normally includes hidden information about the author, enabling those in the know to pry into the author’s activities (maybe yours). Text that you think you deleted may still be embarrassingly present.

Sending people Word documents puts pressure on them to use Microsoft software and helps to deny them any other choice. In effect, you become a buttress of the Microsoft monopoly. This pressure is a major obstacle to the broader adoption of free software.


1. Send your document as ODF!

In an ideal world, you probably should be sending your documents in Open Document Format (ODF). These formats include: OpenDocument Text (ODT), OpenDocument Spreadsheet (ODS), OpenDocument Presentation (ODP); as well as OpenDocument Graphics (ODG), and OpenDocument Database (ODB).

To do this with a document generated in Microsoft Word, you may need to

2. Try PDF for WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)

If you want your recipient to see your document the way you do, and editing is not needed, send it as a PDF. Though a proprietary format, PDF is well documented, and free readers abound. (The latest Office has finally incorporated PDF generation, as has done for quite a time. Otherwise, there are programs to “print” PDFs, that work like a printer driver.)

3. “Just the Facts, Ma’am!” with HTML, TXT,

If the words are all that matter, try a simple common format like plain text (TXT). Or if you want it a bit fancier, try HTML. (RTF is no longer recommended, as there are many varied implementations, and many new readers in phones/tablets do not support).

To convert the file to HTML using Word is simple. Open the document, click on File, then Save As, and in the Save As Type strip box at the bottom of the box, choose HTML Document or Web Page. Then choose Save. You can then attach the new HTML document instead of your Word document. Note that Word changes in inconsistent ways–if you see slightly different menu item names, please try them.

To convert to plain text is almost the same–instead of HTML Document, choose
Text Only or Text Document as the Save As Type.

4. Go with the Flow: DOC, not DOCX!

Of course, you always have recourse to the “standard” Microsoft formats (without the X!) While this does not address the monopoly issues, it at least provides a document that your correspondent is more likely to be able to read faithfully. Just save it as “MS Word 97/2000/XP *DOC*” format, or however the DOC files are called. You may even choose to set this (or ODT) as your default file format.

5. Use! or! — and ODF!

This is probably best implemented when you get a new computer, but you can use OO/LO at any time – even on a machine with Word installed! But when you are buying a new computer, you have an opportunity to steer away from the Office bundles. (You pay for them in a stealthy way with bundling – just as you pay for the Windows Operating System!) Refuse the deal that’s loaded with bundled software that you don’t want. In the days when inexpensive machines perform quite well, the cost of bundles is an ever larger percentage of overall cost. … “Just say no!”

(1) The “C” Fonts (Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia and Corbel), introduced in Office 2007 and Vista, introduce subtle differences in formatting when the receiver does not have them – and have incompatibilities in some mathematic symbols. (This seems like another attempt to make a nuisance for non-Microsoft software!)
The previous long-used font set (“Core fonts“: Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) was initially offered openly for download by Microsoft (during a time when MS was building its market share). It was then withdrawn from MS downloads, but still legally available elsewhere.
The new “C” fonts have a more restrictive license, although there are workarounds. … If Microsoft were really worried about interoperability and making better fonts available, they would release the “C” fonts under a less restrictive license!

MS Word/Excel/Powerpoint ODF (OpenDocument Format) converters

Currently for those who have paid the big bucks for MS Word/ MS Office, there are two ODF converter projects. You need the ODF converter to be able to read and write the ISO standard document formats. Despite Microsoft’s efforts to force their competing OOXML “standard” upon the world, ODF is preferred. Think of a world where one could use the word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation application of your choice, and seamlessly exchange data with anyone!

Since I do not run MS Word, I cannot personally vouch for how these ODF converters compare. There are some reviews out there: some like Sun’s plugin, others the Sourceforge effort. (Let me know what you think!)

These projects may be found:

Sun ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office
formerly recommended as overall best option (see April 22, 2010 NOTE).
latest version is indicated in “Spotlight — ODF Plugin X.x for Microsoft Office Released” on this page:
download link is on “Get It” tab.

Sourceforge OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office
(N.B. This one requires some rigamarole where you have to save newly opened ODF as DOCX before you can resave it as ODF! Must be because MS is involved! This might be a reason to try the Sun plugin first?)

I encourage all Microsoft Word users to install one of these plugins, and use the ODF format for sharing files with other users. … Of course, if you don’t want to hassle with MS Office, just use, or another option!

NOTE: On April 28, 2009 October 25, 2011, Microsoft released service pack 2 for Microsoft Office 2007 service pack 3 for Microsoft Office 2007 (download link). This now includes support for ODF text documents and spreadsheets, featured prominently on the ‘Save As’ menu. One can also configure Office applications to use ODF as the default format for new documents. … now the easy option!

updated March 7, 2012

For Spreadsheets especially, there still are some big issues with MS’s implementation(1). There are also concerns for word processing documents (2), so you might want to use one of the above solutions for a while, until Microsoft catches up with the world. Given the alleged technical capacity of Microsoft engineers, compared with some of the others compared in the first article link, it almost seems deliberate! (A summary of the state of affairs, from Jeremy Allison, one of the lead developers on the Samba Team.)

updated May 2009

NOTE: Oracle, after having acquired Sun, has perplexingly decided to charge for the Sun ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office that was my former recommendation. Yet they actually sell a version of Oracle Open Office (nee Star Office) for the same or less than the plugin?! (See Oracle’s ODF Plug-in Pricing: What’s up with That?) … It might be easiest to just use, NeoOffice (forMac OS X) , or another suite that uses ODF.

updated April 22, 2010