Most likely you have been directed to this document because you have attempted to e-mail me a document in Microsoft Word format. I would like to explain to you why I am probably not able to access this document, why you should reconsider sending Word documents to people, and what better alternatives are available for document exchange over the Internet.
- Microsoft Word documents cannot always be read by other word processors.
- The specification for Microsoft Word documents is a closely-guarded secret, and as such only software from Microsoft is capable of reading Word files correctly. People who use other word processors, either by choice or by necessity, may be unable to open Word documents.
- Documents produced with one version of Microsoft Word cannot always be read by other versions of Microsoft Word.
- Even if the person to whom you are sending a Word document does indeed have Microsoft Word, he or she still might be unable to read it. Because the Word file format is not standard and fixed, Microsoft can, and in fact often does, change it from time to time.
- Microsoft Word documents are not guaranteed to look and print the same way on every computer and printer.
- The reason for this is that Microsoft Word will silently reformat a document based on the user’s printer settings. This is bad news for certain kinds of documents, such as forms, which rely on elements precisely positioned on a page.
- Microsoft Word documents are extremely large compared to other file formats.
- The Word file format is bloated and inefficient; documents are often many orders of magnitude larger than the amount of text they contain. Even in today’s age of ample hard drives, a large collection of Microsoft Word files can quickly eat up one’s available disk space.
- Sending Microsoft Word files can violate your privacy.
- Microsoft Word is often configured by default to automatically track and record changes you make to a document. What many people do not realize is that this record of changes is actually silently embedded in the file every time you save your document. When you send such a document to a third party, it is a trivial matter for them to recover this log and see how the document appeared several revisions ago.
Alternatives to sending Word files
- Plain text
- Unless your document actually requires special fonts or formatting, consider simply typing it (or copy-and-pasting it) directly into the e-mail you are sending. This way nobody needs to open up a separate program to read your document.
- HTML is a text-based format commonly used for writing web pages and other electronic documents. Its ability to be edited and its status as an open standard make it ideal for document exchange.
- Postscript or PDF (Adobe Acrobat)
- If you are sending a document which has extensive formatting and is intended to be printed out, and which you do not expect the recipient to have to or want to modify, consider sending a Postscript or PDF file. Postscript and PDF files will always display exactly the same on the recipient’s system as on yours.
- Rich Text Format (RTF)
- In cases where the document makes use of special formatting and you expect the recipient to edit it, you may wish to send a Rich Text (RTF) file instead of a Word file. RTF may not preserve physical formatting exactly, but unlike with HTML, it at least tries to specify physical presentation rather than leaving it entirely up to the recipient’s application.
- OpenDocument Format (ODF)
- OpenDocument is another standard data interchange format. It has the advantage of being adopted as an official international standard by ISO. Most modern word processors (with the notable exception of Microsoft Word) support the OpenDocument standard.
You can read more here (Tristan Miller, logological.org).