Working with Word 2007 & 2010 documents in earlier versions

It’s bound to happen sooner or later.  Someone — co-counsel, client, whoever — sends you a document with a .docx extension.  You try to open it in Word 2003 or even 2002, but you get an error message.

Don’t fret — it’s an easier problem to solve than you think.

Microsoft publishes what they call a “Compatibility Pack,” which is basically an add-on that enables you to access Office 2007 and 2010 documents within prior versions of Microsoft Office (including Word).

You do, however, want to be sure you’ve gone through all high priority updates through Microsoft Update so that you have the most current release of your version of Word and Windows before installing the Compatibility Pack.

To get this tool:

  • Go to the Download page.
  • Before downloading the software, be sure to read the System Requirements. (Generally, you need to have installed any high priority updates to your Windows operating system and to your Office applications, regardless of what version you’re running.) If you’re not sure if you meet the requirements, ask your IT person.
  • Click the download button to proceed. You’ll be downloading a file called FileFormatConverters.exe.
  • Follow the instructions to install the software on your PC.

Once you have the compatibility pack installed, you can open and edit .docx files like you would any other Word file.  Some 2007-specific features may be lost in translation, so be sure to communicate that to whomever you’re exchanging files with.

(P.S.: The Compatibility Pack also allows you to work with the newer Excel and other Office files.)

About the Author

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.