Old file formats - how to read Microsoft Works 4.x files

Its not just NASA that has trouble reading old files sometimes those of us with less important missions have problems too. J has been doing some family research recently and came across a CD that had been sent to her some years ago by a distant relative, G,  who has since passed away. G had spent a lot of time doing the same research and after questioning lots of family members he had recorded his notes in a state of the art application called Microsoft Works. Apparently the family tree was also somewhere on the CD too.

There was a handful of JPG files which were easily read - SCORE #1 for mass supported open formats.

The rest of the CD contained a single .PAF file, multiple .WKS, .WPS and .MAX files.

The .PAF file is from a program called Personal Ancestry File and even though the file was last saved in 2002 and was multiple versions old it imported into the newest version of the program with no apparent problems. SCORE #2 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The .MAX format is a proprietary format used by ScanSoft for their scanners. Its likely that the latest version of PaperPort will open it but I wasn't about to drop $99 jut in case especially since I only had a handful of these files. After some google time I found a direct link to the old ScanSoft ftp site which is still up and has the PaperPort 7.0 viewer available. There is no export but viewing the images at 100% fitted just fine on my monitor so SnagIt was able to grab it cleanly.

Which left me with the .WKS and .WPS files which are both from Microsoft Works. But which version? There's no way to tell. Word 2010 will import Works 6-9 and it wouldn't read this file which matches the 1998-2000 dates on the file. Its likely Works 4.x or 2000. Excel doesn't even try to load Works files in .WKS format. I found a commercial conversion tool for the WKS to Excel conversion which is only $10 and has a trial. I found an online conversion tool called ZamZar which was a complete failure. I tried opening them in notepad and realised I can see the text - but several of the files I know have images that we really needed (scans of 2 civil war letters). There is plenty of evidence that older versions of Word (and Excel) would read the files. Thankfully I have an MSDN subscription that contains old versions of office back to Office 95 and so that I don't have to mess up my normal machine I have a handy VMWare virtual machine running Windows XP. So I spent the morning installing Office 95, Office XP, Office 2003 and not a single one of them would read my files. Thank goodness for the VMWare snapshot feature - after each failed attempt I could roll back the machine to its previously clean state with a couple of clicks. The more I researched the more I came to the conclusion that Office 97 or Office 2000 were the versions I wanted but those are not available anywhere. We can thank the Sun lawsuit for that apparently. At this point I'm ready to head over to ebay to buy a copy of works but I still don't know if its 4.x or 2000 and we really needed to open these files this weekend.

So I broke the law... sorry Mr Gates/Ballmer but I fired up a torrent client and found myself an installer for Works 4.x and a license code. (No I'm not going to help YOU break the law find them yourself). Its pretty clear that even in the pirate world nobody cares about old versions of Works. It took a lot of looking through sites with naked ladies on them (yes all the ads on torrent sites seem to be adult in nature) to find what I needed. Of course I have to be paranoid about viruses and the like. Thankfully I have my virtual machines and even on those I install Microsoft Security Essentials. Once I'd downloaded the file I disconnected the VM from the internet and installed it. All the files loaded first time and allowed me to save them in old versions of word which will happily load into Office 2010 for conversion. I've also saved each document in PDF format too. Both proprietary I know but I suspect they will be around for a long time to come.

It made me think though that as more and more of our life becomes digital what will our kids and grand kids be able to see when they inherit an old machine/usb key whatever with family 'heirlooms'. Paper has its own problems too. I'm looking at pictures from 50 years ago that are horribly faded and damaged and newspaper clippings so delicate I don't want to touch them. Seem like 'the cloud' may be a good solution. I assume if JPG ever becomes unused Flickr/Picasa will be able to do a batch conversion for me. Of course then there's a privacy issue that some folk don't like.


Published 28 June 2010 09:17 AM by zman


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