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Opening up new VISTAs

I received a mysterious file last week, via e-mail from one of my students. According the e-mail, the file contained the answers to an assignment.

I downloaded the file and double-clicked it. Nada.

I did notice that the file had an unusual extension. Most Word documents have “.doc” at the end. This one had “.docx”

I thought that must be a mistake, so I tried other options for opening it with Microsoft WORD, even editing the extension to change it to “.doc”

No. That didn’t work.

Then, I tried TextEdit, all I saw were strange characters.

I did a few other things, but all I could see was gibberish.

I complained about this, naturally, to my husband. Not only was he not sympathetic, he said that, working in bioinformatics, I should know how to look inside any file.

Fine! Challenge accepted.

I opened the terminal window, typed the path to the file and typed “cat”

Still more gibberish, but I recognized one piece. The letters “xml”

We both thought that was strange. “Is your student using OpenOffice?” he said.

Nope. It was a new computer, with VISTA.

Needless to say, that experience made me enjoy this little film clip on the wonders of using voice recognition software to write a Perl script. It made me laugh. Kind of hysterically. Even if you haven’t ever written or contemplated the inner workings of a computer program, you’ll find this funny, at least for while.

Beware, there’s some bad language towards the end.


  1. #1 John Wilkins
    February 13, 2007

    You need a docx converter. On the Mac, use this:


    I don’t know of one under Windows.

  2. #2 Toaster Sunshine
    February 13, 2007

    Vista, RWARG!
    If only Vista had the chutzpah to take on an iconic logo form, Tux could kick its ass all over the cyperspace.

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    February 13, 2007

    Once I learned what the problem was, I taught him how to save the file in a Word 97-2003 format. I’m sure he has (or will have) other instructors who either use Macs (like me) or haven’t yet upgraded to VISTA.

  4. #4 Sandra Porter
    February 13, 2007

    Toaster S.,

    Tux is sooo cute.

  5. #5 SMC
    February 13, 2007

    Alternatively, give ’em a copy of OpenOffice and/or PDFWriter and tell them to save the files as nice, standard PDF…

  6. #6 JTP
    February 13, 2007

    You can point him to http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter/ which will allow him to save in the OpenDocument format directly from Office(or batch convert existing docx files). Anything to keep the document out of the ghastly pseudostandard that is “OpenXML”.

  7. #7 derek
    February 14, 2007

    Those familiar with the classic landscaping of Capability Brown will know the technical meaning of the word “vista“: it’s a carefully controlled view, limited to a single direction by the designer of your environment.

  8. #8 Cathy
    February 14, 2007

    It’s actually nothing to do with Windows Vista. The problem is he’s using MS Office 2007. You’d have the same issue if he bought a new laptop with Windows XP and Office 2007.

    MS has downloadable updates for earlier versions of Office that allow you to save/read the new open formats, and I see somebody’s already given you info on a tool you can use on the Mac. You probably will have to find a way to read the open formats eventually.

  9. #9 Daniel Swan
    March 6, 2007

    Hmm yes, hit the same problem – my girlfriend sent me a essay to proof – I was first tipped off that something was wrong when Gmail refused to recogise the document I know had come from Word..

    Slightly frustrating because as a practicing bioinformatician as well I am either sat in front of an OS X laptop or Linux desktop.

    I was trying to extract the document text with ‘strings’ not ‘cat’ which normally works on Word documents but apparently not this docx format. I can see this is only the beginning of many many unreadable documents ending up in my inbox..

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