View this: Opening a file when you don't have the program

Crabby Office Lady: (c) Microsoft Crabby Office Lady

What happens when you receive an e-mail or a CD that contains a slide show or a diagram that you really need to see but that you can't because you don't have the program needed to open it? In a word: viewers.

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A couple of years ago one Sunday — yes, I still mourn — proved to be a very sad occasion for me. My favorite TV show (and I do mean of all time) ended. Without getting too specific about this show — a drama about a family and its funeral home — people died. And I mean lots of them. (In fact, all of them.) No nice and tidy wrap-ups, no happy goodbyes; no. I was crushed. I cried my eyes out. Then I watched it again. And again. And I cried some more. I still miss that sacred hour on Sunday nights.

I tell you this little story not to publicly sing the praises of that gem of a show (although I'd like to), but because I can't imagine being more crushed at the demise of those characters and that show, than...say, if someone can't open a file because he doesn't have the Office program it was written in. (Now, THAT, my friends, is pretty devastating.)

While I can't do a thing about bringing my favorite show back into my life (other than by settling for the same plot lines all over again thanks to the complete 5-season DVD set), I CAN do something about your not being able to view a file that was written in a program you don't have (and possibly never heard of).

Communication breakdown: Why it happens

Perhaps you're not a regular computer user. (How you ended up here, I have no idea, but welcome!) Or perhaps you use a different brand of productivity software than Office. (Tsk-tsk.) Or maybe you have installed certain Office programs, like Word or PowerPoint, but not others, such as Visio or Excel.

So far, your life has been just fine and you've gotten along without those programs. But one day you receive an attachment in your e-mail inbox (which of course you don't open until you're certain about who it's from), and you can't open it because...you don't have that specific program it was written in. Or perhaps you try to share a file with someone and this person can't open it because she doesn't have the program it was written in. Communication breakdown!

Here are examples of what I mean:

  • Your grandson, who spent years researching your family's entire genealogical history, created an unbelievable slide presentation on CD that has the answers to questions about your family that you've wondered about your entire life. However, you can't open it to finally find out if you are indeed the second cousin thrice removed of Abraham Lincoln because...you don't have PowerPoint.
  • It's your first day at your new job and you haven't had the time yet to install all the programs necessary to do your job. However, your boss wants you to "get right on it" and sends you a Visio diagram that she needs you to look at and be prepared to talk about in a meeting that's happening in ten minutes.
  • You're a financial advisor who has e-mailed a client an Excel spreadsheet that has critical information about his family's financial health. Your client needs to make some decisions about certain items today. However, he can't open the spreadsheet because he doesn't have Excel. His entire portfolio may be in the dumps by the end of the day (if it isn't already but that's different sort of column for another writer).

Now, my default line of advice is to tell you (or your recipients) to install the programs these files require, but I do know that's not always possible. The good folks who create these programs know this, too. Which is why they created viewers, easily downloaded programs that allow the sharing of Office files. That's right, you can share with people who have versions of Office programs different from your own, or even with people who don't have Office at all. These viewers are typically smaller in size than the original program, allowing you to download the program from Office Downloads pretty quickly, or even package up the viewer itself on a CD to include with the file.

Let's start talking again: The viewers

As I said, you can install a program viewer so that you (or your recipients) can look at the file in question. There are, however, some restrictions. You can view the files in a viewer, but you can't edit them, and you also can't create new files, such as a new Excel workbook or a new presentation. (If you want to do that, you need the whole kit-and-caboodle.)

  • Word Viewer 2007lets you open Word 2007 documents and documents created with all previous versions of Word for Windows and Word for Macintosh.
  • Excel Viewer 2007 With Excel Viewer 2007, you can open, view, and print Excel workbooks, even if you don't have Excel installed. You can also copy data from Excel Viewer 2007 to another program. However, you cannot edit data, save a workbook, or create a new workbook.
  • PowerPoint Viewer 2007 lets you view full-featured presentations created in PowerPoint 97 and later versions. This viewer also supports opening password-protected PowerPoint presentations.
  • Visio Viewer 2007 enables anyone to view Visio drawings and diagrams created with Visio 2007, 2003, 2002, 2000, and 5.0 inside their Internet Explorer 5.0 or later Web browser.

So, if we look at our original scenarios, we can see that all is not lost:

  • Your grandson can download the PowerPoint viewer and include it on the CD with the presentation. You install the viewer, double-click the presentation, and voilà, you find out that you are not related to Lincoln after all; it's his interesting (and often misinterpreted) wife, Mary, who turns out to be a relation. Your emotions are mixed.
  • You, on the first day of your new job, quickly visit Office Downloads, do a search for "viewers," download the Visio viewer in one minute flat, take a look at the diagram, and add brilliant comments and fresh ideas to it that will ensure everyone at the upcoming meeting knows that you were a great hire.
  • When you send the e-mail with the spreadsheet to your client, include instructions on how to download the Excel viewer. When you do, mention that time is of the essence and that your client's portfolio's health depends on it.

"The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them." — Mark Twain

About the author

Annik Stahl, the Crabby Office Lady columnist, takes all of your complaints, compliments, and knee-jerk reactions to heart. Therefore, she graciously asks that you let her know whether this column was useful to you — or not — by entering your feedback using the Did this article help you? feedback tool below. And remember: If you don't vote, you can't complain.

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