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Issue #108: August 16, 2009

Q: I’ve received important attachments in an e-mail today.  Both show a Word icon but .docx extension. When I tried to open I saw the message “…does not have a program associated with it for this action…” I followed instructions to open View menu on My Computer and click Options then File Types.  I did not find these on the View menu, but found Folder Options under Tools menu.  I’ve opened File Types and find no further instructions.  I tried to enter DOCX in the search blank but I don’t know where to go from here.

I’m using a Pentium 4 with Windows XP and MS Office 2000.   I get e-mail in MS Outlook.  I had the same problem last week with a .docx attachment I couldn’t read, but this one is too important to delete. Can you lead me out of this mess?

– Shirley H.
Shalimar, Fla

A: The reason it has a Word icon is because it is a Word file, Shirley.  However, it was created by a much newer version than the Office 2000 that you have.  Specifically, a .docx file is an XML (extensible markup language) document file, created by Microsoft Word 2007.  Microsoft changed a lot of things in the 2007 release of Office, and in addition to eliminating all the familiar menus and toolbars (thereby forcing everyone to relearn everything we thought we knew by introducing the tool ribbon) they also changed the format in which all the Office applications save their files.  Prior versions used a proprietary binary format which was more difficult for other applications to work with.  So, in Office 2007, Microsoft started using an XML-based format instead.  Microsoft chose to use the familiar file extensions from Office’s applications but add an X to the end, thereby changing .doc to the .docx that you’ve encountered.

Fortunately, Microsoft had the foresight to realize that in making such a radical format change they were introducing a huge incompatibility to everyone who uses, well, pretty much any prior version of their Office Suite.  So they created a patch that allows older versions of Office applications (including your Office 2000) to open Office 2007 files.  The Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack is available at

It’s interesting that this issue just happened to come up this week, because as I write this, aU.S.federal court has actually filed an injunction against Microsoft forbidding it from selling any version of Word that utilizes XML.  The court ruled that by utilizing XML, Microsoft violated another company’s patent.  It should be interesting to see how this plays out – it isn’t easy to go against Microsoft in court.  It’s also interesting to note that XML is the same format used by the applications in the OpenOffice suite to save their various data files.  I guess there’s no money to be made in suing the maker of a free software suite.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Do use public PCs, such as those at cybercafés, or libraries to access the Internet?  Your privacy may be at risk.  A recent study has shown that publicly accessible computers are much more likely than average to be infected by a variety of malware, from viruses to Trojan Horses.  Even if you don’t take anything away from the computer that could infect other systems, often times malware comes in the form of password-stealing software that might give someone else access to your private information, or worse, your bank or credit card accounts.

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