Bugs & Fixes: Opening (very) old AppleWorks and Word documents

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You’ve managed to dodge the bullet of obsolete storage media. All your data from floppy disks (or whatever) is now safely on USB flash drives, terabyte backup drives, or in the cloud. But another pitfall awaits if and when you ever try to open those old files. What if a file’s data format is so ancient that you no longer have any applications that can read the format? I recently tripped over two examples of this dilemma. Here’s how I solved them:


If you are a former AppleWorks user, you probably know that AppleWorks no longer launches in OS X 10.7 Lion. This is because AppleWorks requires Rosetta and Lion no longer supports Rosetta.

The simplest solution is to get Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). With these apps, you can open most word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations originally created with AppleWorks. After installing iWork apps and removing AppleWorks from your drive, AppleWorks documents will often open simply by double-clicking the document icon in the Finder. If not, launch the relevant iWork app (such as Pages for word processing documents) and select the desired document from the app’s Open dialog.

One place where I found this did not succeed was with documents created using AppleWorks Draw module. I assume this is because no iWork app directly corresponds to the Draw module. Fortunately, third-party apps come to the rescue here. To find out if I owned one of these apps, I selected Open With from the contextual menu of a reluctant AppleWorks file. A likely compatible app showed up in the list: Intaglio. I selected the app and, just as I had hoped, the file opened.

This message appeared when I tried to open a very old AppleWorks document.

My work was not quite done. Tucked away in a cobwebbed corner of my hard drive, I found some truly ancient AppleWorks documents. These files, dating back to the 1990’s, were so old that my iWork apps refused to open them. When I tried, I got an error that said: “Import Error. This document was created with an unsupported version of AppleWorks.”

As the problem file was a word processing document, I would be content if I could just recover the text. To do so, I gave BareBones' TextWrangler a try. From the Enable menu of the application’s Open dialog, I selected the Everything option. I could now open the AppleWorks file in TextWrangler. Heaps of unwanted code appeared before and after the actual text. But it was a simple matter to select the desired text and paste it into a blank Pages document. My salvage operation was a success.


This message appeared when I tried to open a very old Word file.

I had a similar failure with some very old (circa 1996) Microsoft Word files. Normally, older Word files directly open in the latest version of Word. However, as with my very old AppleWorks files, these Word files apparently were too old for Word for Mac 2011 to handle. When I double-clicked the document icon in the Finder, an error popped up that said: “[File name] uses a file type that is blocked from opening in this version.”

Following the advice in the message, I next tried opening the file via Word’s Open dialog. The file did open, but showed only a lot of nonsense characters..

Not ready to give up, I tried a work-around covered in a Microsoft support document. I selected “Recover Text from Any File” from the Enable menu in the Open dialog. When I now chose to open the file, the document’s text showed up intact. A list of fonts was appended to the end of the desired text, but this was easily deleted. I was now good to go.

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