The Word 2003 File Format

The Word 2003 file format has not changed substantially since Word 97, so you can freely exchange files between Word versions 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003, as well as Word 98 and higher for the Macintosh. This makes it easy and convenient to exchange files with people who use older Word versions. No special save procedure is required. Any 2003 features that the earlier version of Word might not support are simply ignored when the file is opened in the older software.

Saving Word Files in Other File Formats

Word's backward compatibility extends back only as far as Word 97 with its default file format. If you need to exchange files with colleagues who use Microsoft Word 95 (Word 6.0), you'll need to take special measures to ensure compatibility.

You can tackle such a problem from either side:

  • You can give Word 6/95 users a filter that enables them to open Word 97 and higher files. The files can be read intact; however, if the user edits and resaves the files with the same name and location, any formatting supported only in Word 97 and higher is lost. This converter, MSWRD832.CNV, can be downloaded through Microsoft's Office Web site, at

  • You can specify Word 97-2003 & 6.0/95 - RTF as the file format when saving (from the Save as Type drop-down list in the Save As dialog box).

What a mouthful that file format is, huh! Let's break it down. Word 97-2003 is a generic name for the normal Word file format in use in Word versions 97 and higher. Word 6.0/95 was the version of Word that preceded Word 97. (It actually went by two names: Word 6.0 and Word 95.) RTF stands for Rich Text Format, a generic format for exchanging data between word processing applications. So this format with a huge name produces files that can be opened in virtually any version of Word as well as many non-Word applications such as WordPerfect and WordPad.

How does Word do it? Two words: huge files. Word saves the document with all the encoding needed for all the different versions, and fixes it so that whatever version opens the file will read the encoding appropriate to itself and ignore the rest.

Because this all-purpose Word 97-2003 & 6.0/95 ? RTF format results in larger data files than regular Word format, you probably will not want to use it all the time unless you are constantly needing to exchange files with people who don't use Word 97 or higher.


If you need to password-protect documents?or use protection for tracked changes, comments, or forms?these documents lose their protection when saved back to Word 97-2003 & 6.0/95 - RTF format (even though Word 6.0/95 does have its own password-protection feature).

Setting a Default File Format

If not everyone in your organization has upgraded to Word 97 or higher, you will not be able to share Word documents in the default Word 2003 format with some people.

If that's your situation, you can set up Word to save by default in the Word 97-2003 & 6.0/95 - RTF format. That's not the only format available, of course; you could specify HTML as your standard format, or a foreign-language Word format, or an older WordPerfect format such as WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.

To specify a format other than Word Document (Word 97 and higher) as your default save format, choose Tools, Options and select the Save tab (see Figure 34.1). Choose the format you want to use from the Save Word Files As drop-down box and click OK.

Figure 34.1. Choosing a different format as your default save format.


You can keep the file size a bit smaller by disposing of certain features in the saved file that were introduced before the bulk of your fellow file-exchangers' versions came out. For example, if almost everyone in your office still uses Word 2000, you could mark the Disable Features Introduced After check box and choose Word 2000 from its list.


The default format you specify affects only new files; when you resave an existing file, it is saved in its existing format.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word