You might be wondering what Microsoft Word has to do with backups. Well, if you work as a writer (and even if you don’t), a lot of the files you back up will be Microsoft Word docs.
And sometimes you’re going to need to restore one of those backed-up files.
Normally, of course, this is a very simple process. You just find the disk the file is on, copy the file to your computer (you could skip this step, but it’s better not to risk corrupting your backup or archive copy), and double-click on it to open it.
Except, it seems, when that file is an old one and you’re using Office 2007.
I upgraded to Office 2007 a few months ago, back when the Ur-Guru reinstalled my computer. I’m just about used to its interface now. Word 2007 plays pretty nicely with documents created in versions of Word going back to Word 1997, and since I didn’t go into business for myself until 2000, most of my actual client docs are in Word 2000 or later.
But a couple of days ago I needed to open a file from my academic days, one I’d created with Word 5.1 for Macintosh in 1994. One I was surprised to discover I had only one copy of, on a DVD to which I’d transferred the contents of my ZIP disks. I went through a few nervous moments just looking for it, as I went through external hard drive after external hard drive after network drive and then into the collection of CDs and DVDs. Once I’d actually located the file, I thought I was home free.
I clicked on the file and got the following error message in Word:
You are attempting to open a file that was created in an earlier version of Microsoft Office. This file type is blocked from opening in this version by your registry policy setting.
This error occurs if you try to open a Microsoft Office document and the file type for that document has been blocked by a registry policy setting. To help secure your computer, Microsoft or the administrator of this computer implemented a registry policy setting that prevents opening this type of file.
To open documents with this file type, disable the registry policy setting. For more information, see Microsoft Knowledge Base article 922850.
Gosh, thanks, Steve Ballmer.
Why would Microsoft consider files created with its own software a security risk? Because they might be, thanks to something known as OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) that Microsoft introduced in the days of Windows 95. OLE allowed you to execute code within a .doc file. That really is a security risk.
It might even be a security risk that crosses platforms, which most viruses don’t.
But given that I created this file myself and know perfectly well that I never embedded anything in it, I’d like to know where Microsoft gets off telling me I can’t open it.
The Knowledge Base article mentioned in the error message directs you to another one, which provides a tutorial on how to edit the registry in order to disable that security block.
I have once or twice edited my Windows registry, and actually managed to do so without completely destroying my operating system’s ability to function. Nevertheless, editing the registry has been compared to walking on water. You’d better back up your registry first, set a restore point, and be in good mental condition.
In other words, it was not something I was about to do at the end of the day at the end of a week of insomnia. I needed another solution.
Suddenly I had a sneaky idea. Why not import my 1994 Word for Mac file into Google Docs, then download it from Google Docs in Word format?
I tried it, and it worked brilliantly.
First, sign in to Google Docs. (If you don’t have a Google account, sign up for one; it’s free and only takes a few minutes.)
Click “Upload” in the menu bar
Locate the Word doc you need to convert using the “Browse” button and click “Upload.”
Save the file after it’s uploaded. (I think Google does this automatically, but just in case…)
Click “File| Download File As…” in the menu bar and choose “Word.”
Save the file to your hard drive.
Open the file with Microsoft Word.
The process isn’t 100% perfect—I lost my footnotes, for instance—but Google Docs was easier to use and preserved my formatting better than OpenOffice. (And OpenOffice is a 150-MB download.)
Eventually I suppose I will go in and edit the registry, and not just because I’d like to have the version of the file with the footnotes in it. I also found a tutorial on how to batch-convert older Word docs to .docx format, but I’m not sure that will work on files as old as the ones I’m concerned with.
If anyone out there is using Word 2008 for Mac, I’d be curious to hear whether you get the same error when trying to open old Word for Mac docs. If you don’t have any to test it on, I’d be happy to send you one of mine.
Meanwhile, props to Google for getting me out of a data restore jam.