Ever get a .doc (Microsoft Word) file as an email attachment on your Mac, only to find that you can’t seem to open it or do anything to view the contents of the file?
There are an incredible number of Windows PCs in the workplace. And almost all of them have a program called Microsoft Word, which is by far the predominant word processing application. Word creates .doc or .docx files, which is its native file format. Occasionally, Windows users decide to forward on one of these .doc files to a friend or colleague, forgetting to inquire whether they have or use Microsoft Word.
A typical Mac user, in fact, won’t have Microsoft Word on their Mac. It is certainly available, and even popular among Mac users. But if you are a casual computer user, you probably haven’t invested in Microsoft Office for Mac, which means you don’t have Word. So how can you open these files?
Fortunately, a Mac user has many options. The first is to simply use TextEdit, a program that comes with Mac OS X. Long-time computer users might mistake TextEdit for a simple text editor, like Notepad or SimpleText. But TextEdit is capable of relatively advanced formatting, and can do tricks like, well, open .doc files.
But TextEdit is no Word. Word has hundreds of layout and design elements that can do anything from a simple letter to a complete book. Fortunately, the vast majority of Word files that you will get will be rather simple, barely touching on Word’s real power. So opening them in TextEdit will most likely give you at least a glimpse at the content of the file. However, don’t expect the layout or design of the document to be intact. Here’s an example of a Word document on the left, and the result when you open it up in TextEdit on the right.
But don’t grab your wallet go off and buy Office for Mac yet. You’ve got some more options if TextEdit doesn’t cut it. Two open source office programs can be downloaded and installed for free, and both can open and display Word files, including some of the design features.
The first is OpenOffice, which you can get at http://www.openoffice.org/. The second is NeoOffice, which is at http://www.neooffice.org/. The second program is actually and off-shoot of the first. Here is how NeoOffice 2.2 displays the document (right) compared to the original in Word (left).
There is another free solution to opening Word files on your Mac, and it is one that is not obvious. If you have a Google account, such as a gmail account, you can use Google Docs at http://docs.google.com/. This is an online office suite that is completely free and includes its own powerful word processor, which you can use right in your Web browser.
You can also upload .doc files and Google will instantly convert them for you. You can then see the contents, though they look a lot like the do in TextEdit, without the design elements.
Now, if you do want to spend some money, you could always go for Microsoft Office for Mac, which naturally gives you the best compatibility. You can also use Pages, part of Apple’s own office suite iWork. But the idea is to be able to open a .doc file that you get in an email without much hassle.
Another method I like is to email the person back and let them know about their faux pas. They shouldn’t assume that you own an expensive business program like Word. They probably didn’t think about it. In my experience, those .doc files are often just a few simple paragraphs of text, which could have been pasted in the body of the email itself. I’ve even received .doc files that contain nothing but a single image, which could have been attached to the email on its own.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have large companies that send out official documents as .doc files. They should be told not to expect their customers or clients to have Word, and they should switch to a much more universal format like .pdf which can be easily read on Windows, Mac, Linux and even devices like the iPhone.
Thanks to Gary Rosenzweig for this great contribution. Gary runs the useful Macmost Apple Mac news information site. It’s must reading (along with this site too, of course).