Hack 12 Opening Microsoft Word Documents Without Microsoft Word


The text of any Microsoft Word document is readable with the greatest of ease thanks to a tiny, free utility and a little open source know-how.

You open an innocent email from some long-lost relative, and she's sent you a vitally important document. "Open now!" the email shouts, comical in its attempt to disguise the friendly spam it really is. Even worse, the attachment is a Microsoft Word document, and you've yet to pony up the dough for Office under OS X. How do you read it? Run out and get some large Word equivalent like AbiWord or AppleWorks, or download a free, 300K utility?

Crafty, experimental users realize that every file or document ever created can be opened up in a plain-old text editor. Whether you actually get something useful is up for grabs, but more times than not, you can recover a bit of meaning from a Word document by dropping it into your friendly neighborhood text editor, as shown in Figure 1-23. In some cases, you can actually learn information the sending user didn't intend for you to know ? like the location on her hard drive where it was originally saved.

Figure 1-23. A Word document in TextEdit

But I digress. Opening Word documents in BBEdit or TextEdit (or even vi, pico, or Emacs for shell [Hack #48] lovers) is a hack at best ? one we could certainly do without in our beloved OS X. That's where AntiWordService (http://www.devon-technologies.com/) from DEVONtechnologies comes in. It's a very small and easy-to-install piece of freeware that will give any Cocoa application the ability to open Microsoft Word documents. Download, drop into your ~/Library/Services directory, log out and back in, and drag that dastardly .doc to TextEdit. Bingo! Instant plain text. It's not perfect, as the documentation confesses: only plain text is preserved, no images and no formatting. But in most cases that's more than enough, since you're opening up a Word document; naturally, you should be interested only in the words.

One thing of note about AntiWordService is how it's a perfect marriage of the OS X ease of use and the power of Unix, now part of Apple's OS for the next fifteen years. In actuality, AntiWordService is just an OS X wrapper around an open source shell utility called antiword (http://antiword.cjb.net/), available for ten different operating systems. You'll also find two other OS X utilities based on antiword: the antiword port (http://www.ronaldo.com/projects/antiword/) by Ronaldo Nascimento and DOCtor (http://www.stone.com/DOCtor/) from Stone Design. Of the three OS X variants, AntiWordService integrates best with your day-to-day work, making the translation effort invisible.