You can use the junior version of Word that Microsoft includes in every copy of Windows.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
How to work on Microsoft Word documents at home when you don't have Microsoft Word
April 23, 2000
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright ©2000, Al Fasoldt
Copyright ©2000, The Syracuse Newspapers
If you have a PC at work, you probably use Microsoft Office. If you occasionally want to do office work at home, you probably think you need Microsoft Office at home, too.
But that's not true. You don't need to have Microsoft Office on your home PC.
This week I'll tell you how you can work with Microsoft Office documents at home without needing Microsoft Office itself. You'll find out how you can do this even if you don't even have Windows -- if, for example, you have an Apple Macintosh or a computer running Linux. (Macs and Linux PCs are designed to work better than Windows does, and this means they use different basic software.)
Microsoft Office handles word processing and a lot of other jobs. If you don't already use Microsoft Office, don't assume that this article is an endorsement of it. I'm not suggesting that you go out and buy it just because a lot of other people use it. (There are other office software suites. Corel makes a good one that costs quite a bit and Sun makes a good one that's free. I'll talk more about them another time.)
But if you already use it, you probably know already that Microsoft Office includes some important programs. It has Microsoft Word, the most common word processor for Windows PCs; PowerPoint, a program for showing slides on the screen; Excel, a program that compares numbers for you; Access, a program that gives you a way to store and sort information, and Outlook, an e-mail program. (The version of Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office is vastly more powerful than Outlook Express, the free e-mail program that Microsoft forces ISP's to give you when you sign up for an Internet account.)
This week I'll concentrate on how you can work on Microsoft Word documents at home even if you don't have Microsoft Word or don't have Windows itself on your home computer.
This next part is easy. All you have to do is use the "Save As" menu -- the one under the "File" menu in Microsoft Word -- to save the document in a form your home software can handle.
The most basic form is "text." If you save your document as text, you'll be able to open it and work on it no matter what kind of computer you have. "Text" stands for words, numbers and punctuation that have nothing added. There are differences in the way various programs deal with text, so don't be surprised if you have to manually remove hidden line-ending codes or if your nicely formatted document turns into one long paragraph. (Just face it. There's not much you can do.)
But I have a much better method if you have a modern version of Windows -- Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows 2000 -- but don't have Microsoft Word. You can use the junior version of Word that Microsoft includes in every copy of Windows.
It's called WordPad. The launch icon for WordPad is in the Start Menu under Accessories. Look for it before you do anything else, because for reasons I've never understood Microsoft made WordPad optional, and that means your own Windows PC might not have it installed. (Microsoft might have been trying to save you some disk space -- a megabyte or so, probably. That's a savings of 1/80th of 1 percent of an 8-gigabyte drive. Thanks, Microsoft.)
If you don't see it in the Start Menu, you need to get out your Windows installation CD and install WordPad. Open the Control Panel and choose "Add/Remove Programs." Then choose "Windows Setup." Double click "Accessories." Scroll to the bottom of the list and make sure "WordPad" is checked, then click "OK" and follow the instructions. If you have trouble at this point, complain to the company that sold you the computer; they did you a disservice by leaving WordPad out.
Microsoft left a few important functions out of WordPad -- it doesn't have a spell checker, won't show newspaper-style columns and has trouble with margins -- but it's fine for what it is, a free word processor that can display huge documents easily. Like the most basic text editors, WordPad can display and allow you to change text documents (the ones with "txt" at the end of their names). It also can work with "RTF" documents ("rich text format" files).
But the best part of WordPad is the way it works with Microsoft Word documents -- as long as you remember one VERY important thing: You have to use "Save As" in Microsoft Word to save a copy of the document in Word 6 format. Microsoft also calls this "Word for Windows 6.0."
(The guy down the hall might try to tell you that you can also save the document as RTF if you're using Word 97 or Word 2000. But don't do it that way. The Word 6 document format is always better than RTF when you are working with Microsoft Word at the office and WordPad at home.)
Here's the sequence. You want to work on the "Widgets Sales Meeting Report" document at home. Right now it's in Word 97 format. Open it in Word 97 and choose "Save As" in the "File" menu. Choose "Word 6.0/95" in the drop-down list of file types. Finish saving the document, then take (or send) THAT version home.
At home, run WordPad and open the document. Make your changes and save it as a "Word for Windows 6.0" document if WordPad asks you. (It might choose that format by itself.)
Bring (or send) the document back to the office. Word 97 will know how to open the document just fine. Use "Save As" and save it as a Word 97 document.
Here are two cautions before you try this out yourself.
First, when you "Save As," always use a different name for the document so that you'll create a copy. Then, when you send or carry the document back to the office you'll still have the original. Second, if you are carting the document back and forth on a floppy disk, don't work on the document while it's on the floppy disk. Windows has an annoying bug that makes it spin the floppy drive at odd times, and this bug is nourished every time you work on a file on a floppy disk. Copy the file to your hard drive before you work on it.