How Can I Read Office (Word, Excel, etc.) Files without Buying Expensive Office?

February 12, 2009

in applications,Windows

by Gabe Goldberg

While Microsoft’s Office applications suite dominates the Windows landscape, it’s expensive and not universally used. And if you only need occasional access to Office-format files, you surely don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars to buy software you’ll rarely use, and even then only in limited fashion.

Fortunately, several free alternatives let you read these files!

First, if you only receive occasional Office-format files and just need to read or print them but not to change/update them, ask senders if they can convert the files to PDF (Portable Document Format). That’s an industry-standard format, easily created by many free alternatives to Adobe Acrobat, and easily read by Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader.

Second, if you only need to read and print Office files, Google the program name (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint) with the word “viewer” to install the free Microsoft file viewer for the type of files you have. If the files were created by Office 2003 or earlier versions, you’re done. If someone inflicts Office 2007 format files on you (file extension docx for Word, xlsx for Excel, pptx for PowerPoint, etc.) you’ll also need Microsoft’s free Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats.

Third, if you’ll need to change Office files, consider Open Office, a free and reasonably compatible alternative to Microsoft’s Office. It may not handle intricately formatted Word documents or convoluted Excel spreadsheets, but it’s usually adequate for the sorts of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations mere mortals create and use.

Gabe Goldberg (, a lifelong computer pro and technology communicator, has written three books and hundreds of articles for audiences including techies, baby boomers and senior citizens. He enjoys sharing tips and pointers that help people use and have fun with technology.