Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Opening old Word files after Office SP3

I look forward to the release of “Service Packs”. (Here is how Microsoft describes a Service Pack: “Service packs are the means by which product updates are distributed. Service packs may contain updates for system reliability, program compatibility, security, and more. All of these updates are conveniently bundled for easy downloading.“) I look forward to SP’s not only because they roll several Updates into one download, but Service Packs also (sometimes) include new products/features — such as, XP SP2 added the Security Center and a firewall.

And besides… I’m a “security guy.” I am all for getting patches (aka “Updates”) and have written many advice articles urging folks to thwart hacker vulnerability exploits and to keep their software updated; most recently, If there’s a patch, I say “get it!”

Recently Microsoft released the third Service Pack for Office 2003 (SP3), and SP3 makes some rather significant changes to how Office 2003 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) behave: namely, it shuts off backwards compatibilty and you can no longer open (or Save) files saved in older versions of Office. Whoa!

What this means to you is, if you are tootling along with an older Version of Word (let’s just say, Word XP as a ‘for instance’) and you send a document to someone using a more current version (which most people are), they may not be able to open your file. Or, if you need to open a file you created some time ago with an old version of Excel (say, an old tax-expense spreadsheet), maybe from an old backup, but you have since upgraded to Office 2003, you will not be able to read your own file.
You will get, instead, an error message.

In short, Office will no longer do what it used to do, and you (may) have lost access to your own files.

My initial reaction to this was incredulity. A hallmark of Microsoft IS backwards compatibility (In fact, BC is a big reason why Vista failed to deliver all that was promised; they just couldn’t deliver the new features AND be backwards compatible.), and here they are –for the first time that I know of– turning off existing compatibility! And, they aren’t (really) asking our permission to do so, either.. but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

The reason MS did this is for security, (Hey! I heard that.) and says this only affects really old file types, like pre-Word 97, (though I have read differently in various geek forums) and older Corel Draw, Lotus, Quattro, and dBase II files. And Microsoft points out that this change is the same as what was written as the defaults for Office 2007. So this probably will not affect you until you have some cause to dig out something you created a very long time ago.. but if it does:

Tip of the day: restore Office 2003’s ability to access old files only if it becomes necessary, and only restore the abilities you need. And then turn them off again.
Microsoft provides .reg file downloads to restore the functionality of certain areas of Office: use just the one you need. A .reg file modifies the Windows Registry (which is a serious issue) and so I highly recommend creating a System Restore point before making these types of changes. Close any open Office applications and…

1) Download the file to your desktop by choosing “Save” (do not “Open” or “Run”) when prompted, and selecting Desktop as the “Save file to…” location.
* To re-enable Word formats only, click here.
* To re-enable Excel formats only, click here.
* To re-enable PowerPoint formats only, click here.
* To re-enable CorelDraw formats only, click here.

2) Double-click on the new (download) .reg icon on your Desktop, and click on “Yes” to proceed.

3) Re-launch Word (or, Excel, or PowerPoint, as the case may be) and Open the old file(s) you need access to, and then “Save As” them to 2003 files (using the “Save As Type” drop-down arrow.)

4) Repeat the download/double-click procedure with the links below to re-enable the security shutdown.
* To re-block old Word formats only, click here.
* To re-block old Excel formats only, click here.
* To re-block old PowerPoint formats only, click here.
* To re-block old CorelDraw formats only, click here.

I feel compelled to mention to you (again) that another alternative is to use the Open Source suite of applications to access the old (and new) Microsoft Office files, and re-post it as..

Today’s free link: Open Office. From website: “ is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Compatible with all other major office suites, the product is free to download, use, and distribute.”
*It is available in a “portable” version too.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 7, 2008 - Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, MS Word, PC, removing Updates, security, tech, Windows, word processors | , , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks a bunch. My IT dept. only gave me the unblockexcel.reg file and no background. This was very helpful.




    Comment by Patrick Bullen | February 2, 2009 | Reply

    • Glad I could help. Thanks for stopping by.


      Comment by techpaul | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks very much – managed to load my son’s old CV (Word 98 I think!) as he is job hunting – very useful.


    Comment by maggie reed | May 5, 2009 | Reply

    • You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.


      Comment by techpaul | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. Problem I have with these registry updates is they install under current user.

    My user’s do not have admin rights to import these themselves, and if I import them as administrator, doesn’t fix issue for user.

    Any suggestions?


    Comment by Mike | June 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Mike,
      I assuming from what you said that you have a number of users, and that you are an admin.. I’ll go further and assume that you’re in an AD environment.

      It seems to me that the way to “push” the change down to all your users would be via Group Policy and a logon script. This article uses a non-pertinent (to your question) example (and it’s talking about Vista) but I believe the method will be what you’re looking for.

      Please let me know if I am wrong, and this doesn’t help.


      Comment by techpaul | June 9, 2009 | Reply

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    Comment by sandeep | March 31, 2011 | Reply

    • sandeep,
      Thank you. I hope you will look around some. There are over 1,300 articles here.


      Comment by techpaul | March 31, 2011 | Reply

  5. Is there anyplace I can have hundreds of Word 3.0 files converted to Word 2007 or 2010? I can’t even read them any more.


    Comment by Candyce Martin | January 14, 2012 | Reply

    • Candyce Martin,
      I understand you to mean that you want a “batch convert” solution.. to handle a lot of documents.

      This is outside my realm, and any solution I know of is a one-at-a-time method… sorry.

      Perhaps someone in the audience will know of a batch converter that will work?


      Comment by techpaul | January 14, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Candyce,

      I really am not a “Word/Office” person but I did Google for you. This is the word search I used: batch convert from “word 3” to 2007 You could play around with variations of that. I don’t even know what extensions Word 3 uses.

      Got this..

      batch convert from “word 3” to 2007 – Google Search

      You could glance through this…The first one on the list isn’t what you want but a few through the list might be what you need.

      Best convert word 2007 to word 3 downloads.

      There are free programs out there but you have to pay for the “batch option” I am finding out.


      Comment by delenn13 | January 15, 2012 | Reply

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