Q: My 2010 desktop PC crashed in October, taking with it my copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. Fortunately, I saved all my Office 2007 Word and Excel files, which are in the “.wps” and “.xlr” file formats, on flash drives. I bought a new Windows 10 PC, but have not yet replaced the Office software. If I buy Office Home and Student 2016, will I be able to read my existing files?

Bill Flowers, Tucson, Ariz.


A: You won’t be able to read all of them, for a couple of reasons. They aren’t Microsoft Office files, and new versions of Office are increasingly incompatible with them. While Office 2007 read the files, Office 2016 will read some or none of them, depending on how it’s set up.

The problem is in formats. Office 2007 created Word documents in the “.docx” file format and Excel spreadsheets in the “.xlsx” format. Files with the “.wps” (document) and “.xlr” (spreadsheet) formats were created by the Microsoft Works program, which Microsoft discontinued after 2007.

You never needed to know that while using Office 2007, because it was “backward compatible” with the files created by Works versions 6 through 9. It could read Works files that went as far back as 2002, or convert them to more modern file types.

But Microsoft didn’t design Office 2016 to be backward-compatible with Works files. When equipped with some add-on software, called the “Microsoft Works 6-9 Converter” (download it at tinyurl.com/y76p9w3l), Office 2016 can convert your “.wps” files to “.docx” files, but it can’t help you with the “.xlr” files. (For a list of file formats Office currently supports, see tinyurl.com/yc5pvego).

Why does Office 2016 have such limited compatibility with your old Works files? Planned obsolescence. By abandoning support for old technologies that still work, tech companies force consumers to switch to new technologies.

That’s hardly news to regular readers of this column. In the iPhone’s newest operating system, Apple arbitrarily dropped support for older 32-bit apps that customers had purchased (see tinyurl.com/ybvqytx5). And last month, Microsoft dropped security support for a two-year-old version of Windows 10 (see tinyurl.com/yc7m5ekn), the same one it urged Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to in 2015.

Despite the effects of planned obsolescence, you still have options:

• You can buy a copy of Office 2007 online (if you search Google for “buy Office 2007,” you’ll see several offers.) You can use the program to read the files in their current form, as you did before. Or you can convert them into modern Word and Excel files. (In the menus that open Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, choose the “all files” category in the drop-down menu at the lower right and click the Works files to open them. Then use the “save as” command and choose the Word or Excel file types from the drop-down lists at the bottom of the menus.)

• You can use the free version of the online file conversion service Zamzar (see tinyurl.com/y9on7efb and tinyurl.com/yaquuo96) to convert your “.wps” files to “.docx” and your “.xlr” files to “.xlsx”, making them compatible with Office 2016.


E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com. Include name, city and telephone number.