How to deal with Open XML files, even if you don't have Office 2007.

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Upgrading to Office 2007 isn't a one-way street, which is just as well if you subsequently decide you preferred the way a particular feature operated in 2003 or Office XP. By default, Office 2007 uses Open XML file formats. These won't be to everyone's taste but, while you may not upgrade to 2007 immediately, you'll need to be able to open documents created by those who have.

Singled out

Open XML, the default file format for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 has great potential. The trouble is, people using older versions of Office can't open XML documents. And users of different versions of Office 2007 are given different options for opening and editing such documents.

To ensure that your documents can be opened in Office 97-2003, click the Office button and choose Options, Save. Open the drop-down 'Save files in this format' menu and choose the 97-2003 format.

You can't preserve everything this way, however. Word 2007's SmartArt (stylish, editable chart graphics) can't be saved in an editable manner within Word 97-2003 documents. Save the file as a .docx file, though, and SmartArt graphics will be preserved.

Faking it

If you do receive an Open XML document but you don't have the appropriate 2007 Office application, those who have used Microsoft Update to keep their Office XP or 2003 application as current as possible should receive a prompt to grab the relevant Compatibility Pack from Microsoft's website. Having installed this, you'll be able to open, edit and save Office 2007 XML files in Office 2003 or XP.

Versions of Office that predate Office 2003 probably won't recognise XML files at all. The Compatibility Pack is the only route to take here. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Word 2000 users can open, edit and save .docx files directly. In Excel and PowerPoint 2000 you can't edit Open XML files directly, although you can open, view and save them to their older file format before working on them.

After making your changes, save the file back to the Open XML format.

Older versions of Office and office applications made by any company other than Microsoft will not be able to open Open XML files at all. However, the Compatibility Pack lets you covert them to their Office 97 counterparts directly from Windows XP or Vista. Right-click on a .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx file, then click on Save As and a window containing a field for the file name and a drop-down format menu showing the Office 97 format will pop up.

When you've edited and saved the file, you can right-click again to return to the Save as window but, this time, the drop-down format menu will show the Open XML option for saving your file.