It figures, Microsoft

I tend to keep everything. There’s a long story behind that going back to my dad and our move from Calgary to Red Deer when I was 10, but I’ll leave that for another time.

I’m not as much of a ‘physical stuff’ pack-rat as I used to be; moving a long distance cures a lot of that. But I am a digital pack-rat, and have been since my first experiences with computers. As a result, I have various documents I’ve written dating back to my undergraduate days. Many things were saved as text, but once word processors came about I started to save their documents as well. Other than one nasty episode where I’ve lost my entire M.Eng. Thesis because it was saved in Borland’s orphaned (and forever forgotten) “Sprint” editor, my stuff is mostly Microsoft Word documents.

After all, MS Word has been around since early Windows, and it’s still sold and maintained. What could possibly be wrong with saving old MS Word documents, correct?

Well, as it turns out, plenty. MS Word has dropped support for older products as time passed. Each new version seems to lose support for another older version. As a result, when I went to look at a 1992 MS Word document last night, it would not open. There were a few, and some would open but not display properly,¬† but some would not open at all. The error was “check the file protection settings in trust center”. I did that, but I already had as much prior support enabled as possible.

I even tried my older copy of MS Word on my 2005 Macbook. No joy there either.

I figured that the files were lost to time, thanks to Microsoft’s laziness and lack of care.

But.. this past week I’ve been playing with Open Source programs, most notably the FLOW reservoir simulator. I was compiling that from source on an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine running on VirtualBox on my Win7 PC with great success and fun. I also had created a VirtualBox Ubuntu 16.04 machine for compiling Tomcat and other Apache programs.

I remembered that all the Ubuntu machines were installed by default with a current copy of LibraOffice – one of the open source word processors.

On a whim, I fired up Ubuntu 16.04 on VirtualBox, used SMB to connect to my data server, and copied a directory of the older MS Word documents over to a local directory on Ubuntu. *** Programmers Rule #1: NEVER work on the original file.***

Once the documents were copied, I double-clicked the one that would not open at all in new MS Word, and … IT OPENED! No errors, not missing formatting. It was there, perfectly intact.

So, way to go Microsoft. You ditched compatibility with your own older document formats, but fortunately the Open Source world didn’t.

One more  win for Open Source.

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