You can open old Office files with these settings

Your words and images can live forever, despite changes in Office versions and file format, but there are risks.

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George Courtney discovered that he couldn’t print old DOC files from inside Windows Explorer. “Do I have to convert the files to compatible mode?”

No, you don’t have to convert the files, and I hope you never do. As file formats change with application upgrades, the old formats should continue to be supported. Programs change, but content—words, numbers, images, and sounds—should last indefinitely.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen as cleanly as we’d like. As security became a bigger problem, Microsoft altered the Office formats to make them safer. But that meant that the old, less-secure formats had to be handled carefully.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

That doesn’t mean you can’t open the files. It just means you have to know what you’re doing.

I’ve tested this in Word 2010, 2013, and 2016, as well as Excel 2010. My instructions are for Word, but can be adapted to other Office applications.

First, you need to get to the File Block Settings dialog box:

  1. In Word, select File > Options.
  2. In the resulting Word Options dialog box’s left pane, click Trust Center.
  3. Click Trust Center Settings button
  4. In the resulting Trust Center dialog box’s left pane, select File Block Settings.

Note that the resulting dialog box is dominated by a list of document formats—mostly variations of DOC and DOCX. All of them have an Open checkbox—although only a few are checked. Some also have a Save checkbox, but we don’t have to worry about that.

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The three options at the bottom of the dialog box control what happens when you try to access a file whose format is checked. The default setting, Open selected file types in Protected View, allows you to view the document in Word, but not edit it.

Oddly, this default also blocks you from printing the file or previewing it in Windows/File Explorer. That makes no sense. If it’s safe to display in Word, it should be safe to print or display elsewhere.

The Do not open selected file types option blocks access to the file entirely—both in Word and in Windows/File Explorer’s Preview pane.

The Open selected file types in Protected View and allow editing option is similar to the default, except for a big Enable Editing button. Click it, and you can edit the file, print it, and even view it in Windows/File Explorer. And you can continue to do all of those things for that particular file.

Of course if you uncheck the format’s Open checkmark, you can do anything with the file. But you have to weigh the ease of accessing old files with security needs.

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