Kadansky Logo

Personalized Computer Services

(617) 484-6657


How I Work





Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky

Volume 17 Issue 4

April 2023

LibreOffice: Free Software That Can Open and Convert Older and Obsolete Documents, Including Word, Excel, Publisher, WordPerfect, AppleWorks and More!

The Problem

Have any of the following ever happened to you?


  • You’ve got some documents that you can’t open. When you try, you see snippets of readable text surrounded by gibberish, or complete gibberish, or strange error messages, or your computer just won’t open them.
  • When you open other documents you see a “plain-text” version of their content, i.e., all of the formatting (fonts, bold/italic/underline, indents, margins, etc.) is gone.
  • These documents might be ones that you opened and edited with no problems in the past (perhaps using a previous computer), or they may have come from someone else’s computer.


See below for my advice regarding a free program for Windows and Macintosh that might help.


How does this happen?


Your computer might have trouble opening a document for a variety of reasons, including:


  • Your computer might have simply lost track of the fact that you actually have the right software to open that document.
  • You might have had the appropriate software, but you unknowingly upgraded it to a newer version, which (for reasons known only to the developer) no longer has the ability to open that older document properly.
  • You might not have the right software to open that document, especially if you got that document from someone else.
  • You might have upgraded your computer’s operating system, which may not be compatible with that version of the software.
  • You might have moved to a newer computer, which doesn’t have the right software to open that document.


Here are some confusing examples:


  • For many years, Microsoft Word was able to open many older types of Word documents, including files that I created in Word Version 1 for Macintosh back in 1986. For some reason Microsoft removed that ability, so recent versions of Word don’t recognize those older Word documents. All of these files have the “.doc” extension.
  • Many older versions of Microsoft Word cannot open newer types of Word documents, but all of these files have the same “.docx” extension.


What I recommend first


Some of these problems might be solved with a little investigation and technical ability, which could include adjusting some settings, doing some research, or trying newer versions of your existing software.


You might also know someone who already has the right software to read those problematic documents. If so:


  • You could get your documents to them.
  • They could open them (probably one by one), and then use Save As (or Print to PDF, etc.) to convert them into a format that you could use.
  • And then they could get those converted documents back to you.


What I recommend next


If those approaches don’t help, I recommend trying LibreOffice, which is a free program from The Document Foundation’s http://www.libreoffice.org website.


In addition to being a very good software package in its own right (and a good, free alternative to Microsoft Office), LibreOffice has the ability to open an amazingly wide variety of file types. And, since it can also save files in a small number of modern file formats, you can also use it to convert older documents for ongoing use.


Like Microsoft Office, LibreOffice works on Windows and Macintosh, and it can do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.


Unlike Office, it’s a single large program, not a collection of programs, and it also runs on Linux. It’s based on the older, open-source OpenOffice, and it’s similar to NeoOffice.




I have had a lot of success using LibreOffice to open obsolete, older, and even newer documents, and most of the time it works well. However:


  • It’s not the same as using that document’s original software. You may see some differences or limitations.
  • If you are able to open a document with LibreOffice, if you then make any changes you will only be able to save them using one of the supported modern file formats. In other words, while you may be able to open a WordPerfect document created in 2003 and start to edit it, you won’t be able to save your changes in that same, older format.
  • LibreOffice’s own native format is the OpenDocument Format (ODF), which includes .odt for word processing, .ods for spreadsheets, and .odp for presentations, none of which might be good choices for you to use for a variety of reasons, including that they’re not that common or popular. So, if you’re going to use LibreOffice as your primary word processor (or spreadsheet, etc.), you should use Tools->Options on Windows (LibreOffice->Preferences on Macintosh) to change the default file format settings in each of the modules that you use (Writer, Calc, etc.) to something more appropriate. I suggest choosing ones that match Microsoft Office’s file formats (.doc or .docx, .xls or .xlsx, etc.).
  • It’s not a general-purpose file conversion utility. It can open many more types of documents than it can save, and it can’t convert multiple files at once.




Here are just a few examples of the many types of documents that LibreOffice can open:


  • Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx)
  • WordPerfect (.wpd)
  • Macintosh-specific documents: Pages, Numbers, Keynote, ClarisWorks & AppleWorks (.cwk), MacWrite
  • Windows-specific documents: Microsoft Publisher, Works (.wps, .wdb), Visio
  • Lotus 1-2-3, Corel Draw, Adobe PageMaker, QuarkXPress


And, since LibreOffice is cross-platform, you get all of its features on both Windows and Macintosh. For example, you could open an AppleWorks document using a Windows computer, or a Microsoft Publisher document on a Macintosh.


LibreOffice for older Macintoshes


If you need to get LibreOffice for an older Macintosh, note that:



Where to go from here


If this seems too complicated to try on your own, I recommend that you talk to someone you know and trust to help you.


To learn more about LibreOffice, search for that along with a type of document that you hope it can open, or computer. For example:


  • google: libreoffice wordperfect
  • google: libreoffice macintosh
  • google: libreoffice macos 10.9


See also:


How to contact me:

email: martin@kadansky.com

phone: (617) 484-6657

web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2023 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

Printer-friendly version

Subscribe to this free newsletter

Go to the Newsletter Archive



To the Top

All original content copyright © 2002 - 2019 Martin Kadansky

Site designed and developed by and copyright © 2002 - 2007 ozbarron