Microsoft used to give free viewers for Office files (.DOC/,DOCX/.XLS/.XLSX/.PPT/.PPTX) as well as for Visio files (.VSD), These viewers work pretty well and can even read Word 97 files on Windows 3.11 without Microsoft Office installed. The Word/Excel/Powerpoint 2003 viewer can open Office 2007 format if the Office 2007 Compatibility Pack is installed on the system. The Visio viewer installs itself as an ActiveX control and will be able to read VSD file using Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Unfortunately that all changed recently when Microsoft dropped support for these viewers and removed the download links from its website. Although these files can still be found elsewhere, I decided to take some time to find a single viewer which can open most Office files. It wasn’t long before I found Office Reader by foxpdf (not Foxit PDF Reader) which seemed to be a good replace for Microsoft Office viewer.
An installation using the provided installer failed with error message “Windows cannot find FoxPDF.exe”. What is interesting is that the size of the downloaded file slightly changed after every download and the filename shown in the error message also changed, pointing to an issue with the company’s download server (or whatever that is). Nevertheless, I was able to find a working download for v2.0, the link to which will be provided at the end of this article. The file name is OfficeReader.exe and the size is 12,045,010 bytes. The MD5 hash (calculated using HashCalc) is 761055d9fa37b796589c5fa869495438.
A quick test revealed that Office Reader 2.0, despite being a lightweight reader, is one of the best Office viewers ever built. It can open everything ranging from Word for DOS to Powerpoint 3.0 documents, formats that can no longer be opened in the latest version of Microsoft Office. This is Office Reader opening a Powerpoint 3.0 document:
Powerpoint 2.0 files are not supported by Office Reader, an error message “No filters available for this type” will be shown.
This is Office Reader opening Word for DOS document:
Word files with equations created using Equation Editor are also displayed nicely. In the January 2018 Public Update of Microsoft Office, Equation Editor was removed. Although later versions of Microsoft Office can still view these equations as images, they must be converted to the modern math format for editing.
This is Office Reader opening an Excel 2.0 document:
Office Reader 2.0 can also open Visio files (.VSD, not .VSDX for Visio 2007). To open .VSDX without Microsoft Visio, you will need to install something like LibreOffice.
Office Reader supports printing, which can be utilized to upgrade your legacy files to a modern format by printing to a PDF printer.
Office Reader can also open PDF and TXT files, but that’s probably not why you want to install it. Even for these types of files, it is a pretty good viewer in my opinion. The only drawback is that it can only run on Windows XP and up and does not support Windows 98.
Word 2019 can open Word 1.0 files, but not Word for DOS, and can only save as Word 97 format (but not earlier formats such as Word 6.0), whereas Powerpoint 2019 can only open Powerpoint 97 files (not even Powerpoint 95) or later. Excel 2019 can open Excel 2.0 files but can only save as Excel 5.0 onwards. By default, opening earlier file formats is disabled, in the name of security, and you will have to change your Trust Center settings following this instruction to get it to work.
Interestingly, Google Docs can open Word for DOS files, as well as Word 1.0, 2.0 and up, but can only open Excel 97 (not Excel 5.0) files. It can only Powerpoint 97 files onwards. Needless to say, Google Docs cannot create Office 97 files but can only create Office 2007 files. Microsoft Access has the worst backwards compatibility among all and the latest version of Microsoft Access can only open .accdb (Access 2007) format – support for MDB files has been removed. You will have to go back to Access 2003, and potentially Access 97, to be able to open your favorite .MDB file created using Access 1.x. Word 6.0 is the last version of Word which can handle Word for DOS files.
For those who are still working with legacy Office files, Microsoft Office 97, installed on a virtual machine, is the preferred method. It can create files in early formats (e.g. Powerpoint 3.0 or Word 2.0) as well as open newer files generated by Microsoft Office, provided that these files are saved as Office 97-2003 formats.
You can download a ZIP archive ((OfficeReaderViewersSampleFiles.zip) with Office Reader 2.0 as well as various Office viewers here.