Walt Mossberg

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Creating Files for Older Versions of Office With the 2007 Edition

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about creating files with the latest version of Microsoft Office that users of older versions can use, moving Outlook contacts to a Macintosh program and reinstalling Windows XP.

On two different new computers, I’ve created Word files and they’re automatically saved with the extension “.docx.” What is that? When I send these files via email, no one can open them. Can you shed some light?

In the 2007 version of Microsoft Office for Windows, which you appear to have on your two new PCs, Microsoft introduced new default file formats whose extensions end in the letter “x”. The one for Word is “docx,” for Excel it’s “xlsx” and for PowerPoint it’s “pptx.” You are using Word 2007, and all of your files are thus automatically being saved in the “docx” format.

Your correspondents can’t open these files because they are using older versions of Office that don’t recognize the new formats. Microsoft has made available a free auto-conversion patch for the older Windows Office versions, but most people don’t have this patch. (It can be found at microsoft.com/downloads under “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats.”)

There’s also a kludgy free stand-alone converter from Microsoft for the Mac versions of Word and PowerPoint, available at microsoft.com/mac under the name “Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac.”

Unless you can persuade all of your correspondents to install these workarounds, I suggest you change a setting in Word 2007 so that, henceforth, all of your files will be saved in the traditional “doc” format. That familiar format isn’t only compatible with older versions of Microsoft Office, but with many other programs, on both Windows and the Macintosh.

To make the change, first click on the round “Office Button” at the top left of Word 2007. Then, at the lower right of the window that appears, click on “Word Options.” In the next screen that comes up, click on “Save” in the column at the left. In the panel that appears at the right, you’ll notice an option called “Save Files in this format,” with a drop-down list of choices next to it. Display the list of choices by clicking on the arrow and select “Word 97-2003 Document (*.doc)”. Then, click OK at the bottom of the window.

Microsoft warns that some new features in Word 2007 won’t translate into the old format, but I believe that this will prove irrelevant in 99% of cases and is outweighed in any case by the incompatibility you have run into.

How can I transfer all my Outlook contacts from a Windows PC to a Macintosh contacts program?

There are a number of methods. You can use a PDA or smart phone that can synchronize the contacts with a Mac, after having first synchronized with Outlook on your PC. Or you can use a $10 program called O2M, which is specifically designed to move Outlook data to a variety of Mac programs. It can be downloaded at littlemachines.com.

Or you could get Apple to do it. The company offers a basic file transfer for free if you buy the Mac from an Apple retail store. But, if you want Apple to move Outlook contacts in just the way you want, you may have to purchase the company’s $99 a year ProCare service, which comes with a more complete transfer service.

I recently replaced an old Windows XP computer that was running very slowly. I want to continue to use it as the computer for our young kids, and I was thinking that if I format the hard drive and reinstall XP (which I bought to upgrade the machine a while back), it will probably improve its performance. Do you agree? And, can I reinstall my copy of XP, when I have already “activated” the software when I originally installed it?

I do agree that the computer will likely run faster after you wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows. That is the usual outcome. And it should be possible to use it legally, as long as you haven’t made any major changes to the hardware, since Microsoft’s activation system typically allows Windows to be reinstalled on the same machine. If activation fails, you can call Microsoft and explain that it’s the same machine, and the company says it will usually OK activation in such cases.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online for free at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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