Opening Windows Write (.WRI) files on modern versions of Windows with CWordpad

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I have an old software that frequently generates reports in Windows Write (.WRI) format. No modern software running on Windows XP or newer could open these files properly. Neither Microsoft Word or the modern Wordpad will open these files. Wordpad taken from an earlier version of Windows (Windows 95 or Windows 98 or Windows XP) managed to show some gibberish symbols followed by readable text, but all formatting is lost, despite .WRI being shown as a supported file type in the File Open dialog. The classic Wordpad (without ribbons) I downloaded does not support .WRI at all. These files were finally opened successfully using Windows Write  running through OTVDM.

It should be noted that starting from Windows 95, WRITE.EXE is just a link to WORDPAD.EXE located in C:\Program Files\Accessories. If you wish to do the same, you must use WRITE.EXE taken from C:\WINDOWS directory of a Windows 3.1 installation. In any case, I prefer a more native approach and decided to search for a better solution.

It was not long before I came across CWordpad by Cetus, a wordpad clone that has support for Word for Windows 6.0 (.DOC), Windows Write (.WRI), Rich Text Format (.RTF) and text (.TXT). The installer I downloaded used a 16-bit version of InstallShield and will not install on 64-bit versions of Windows (without OTVDM), but I managed to find a 32-bit patch for setup.exe which allows the installer to run. With this, CWordpad managed to open nicely PRINTERS.WRI, taken from my Windows 3.1 installation:


Upgrading the file to a more modern format (.DOC or .RTF) can be done via File > Save As. I also tested with several Word 6.0 files, which CWordpad managed to open just fine. Opening a Word 97 document in Wordpad will just display random characters. It must however be noted that even the official release of Wordpad never supports Word 97 format well. Its main format was RTF and support even for Word 6.0 files was only partial. In Windows XP, Microsoft disable the Word 6.0 converter for Wordpad, but can be enabled by adding EnableLegacyConverters = 1 (DWORD) to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Applets\Wordpad and HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Applets\Wordpad. Support for .DOC files was totally removed in Windows 7, when Wordpad started to (partially but well enough) support Word 2007 .DOCX files.

CWordpad cannot open Word 2.0 files (which Wordpad for Windows 9x is able to) as it only specifically supports Word 6.0 format. It goes without saying that although Word 2019 can open a Word 2.0 document nicely, saving the document will silent upgrade it to Word 97 format and the document can no longer be opened in Word 2.0 or Wordpad.

CWordpad, just like the original Wordpad, does not support adding tables (via Insert Tables), but tables which already exist in the document can still be viewed. The modern Wordpad can view existing tables and supporting basic operation (e.g. adding rows by pressing TAB), even if there are no options to create a table from the ribbon..


One thing I like about these early versions of Wordpad is that pasting content copied from a website into it will strip most useless formatting leaving only the basic (bold, italic, underline). If you do the same with Microsoft Word or the modern Wordpad, the software will (poorly) attempt to faithfully render the original document, resulting in crashes for complicated contents.

You can download a copy of CWordpad here. Setup16.exe is the 16-bit installer (original) whereas setup32.exe is the 32-bit installer. CWordpad also installs and works fine on the original Windows 98, however you may need to run setup16.exe as setup32.exe uses features that might not be present on Windows 9x. On most modern Windows installations, including 64-bit versions of Windows, use setup32.exe instead. If the installer does not create a desktop or Start menu shortcut, you can access CWORDPAD.EXE directly under the C:\Program Files\Cetus directory.

See also:
Opening Office 2007 documents on Windows 98

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A tough developer who likes to work on just about anything, from software development to electronics, and share his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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