Microsoft Word Viewer, or MS Word Reader
There are two relatively easy ways to view or read Microsoft Word files without Word installed on your computer. The first is the MS Word viewer. The other is the open source program Open Office 3.0. They each have advantages and disadvantages.
Microsoft Word Viewer
The Microsoft Word viewer, a free download from Microsoft, allows you to open, read and print Word files, but not to edit or save them with different content. You can copy the contents to a different program. This version is called the Word Viewer 2003, and can read Word 2003 documents, as well as all previous versions of Word. The download is 11.7 MB. After December 31, 2009, Microsoft will no longer be offering this download.
Operating systems supported for the viewer are Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. It will read MS Office Word 2003, MS Word 2002, MS Word 2000, and MS Word 97.
It can read documents in the following formats: .doc, .rtf, .txt, .htm, .html, .mht, wpd, .wps and .xml files. Download the file and save it to your hard drive. Navigate to where you stored the program and click on wdviewer.exe. A wizard will open to help you install the viewer. After the viewer is installed, you can open Word files by right clicking on the file, and clicking open.
The Word 2003 viewer can be uninstalled through the add/remove programs option in the Control Panel.
Microsoft does have a replacement Word viewer, which lets you read Word 2007 document formats, if you install both the new Word viewer and the Microsoft Office Compatability Pack for Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2007. The Word Viewer needs 24.5 MB of space. The compatibility pack download is 27.5 MB, and is supported on Windows 2000 Server Service Pack 4, Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, Windows Vista, and Windows XP Service Pack 2. Once you have installed both applications, you will be able to view Word documents in the .docx and .docm file formats. This download applies to all of the previously listed Word programs except for MS Word 97, and allows you to read, open, print and copy Word 2007 files. However, you will not see features that do not exist in Word 2003, or layouts with properties that do not exist in Word 2003. Microsoft has not listed a time when the replacement Word reader will no longer be available.
Your other option for reading Word files without MS Word is to use the program OpenOffice 3.0. The advantage to this is it also gives you a complete office suite, with almost identical features to that of Microsoft Office. OpenOffice has a Writer program, a Calc program (spreadsheet), an Impress program (equivalent to PowerPoint), a drawing program, and a database program The disadvantage of this option is that is will take about 650 MB to install the program, and once it is installed, it will use about 440 MB space on your hard drive. However, it is free, if you need an office suite.
OpenOffice can open files in all Microsoft Office 2007 formats. The documents can be read, written to, printed, copied, and saved when changed. It saves files in all formats but MS Word .docx and .docm formats. However, it can save Word 2007 documents in earlier Word formats, although you will lose those features only available in Word 2007. It also saves files in all the formats that Word 2003 saves, as well as a variety of other office suite formats. As well, it saves programs in the .odt format, which can be read in all open document compliant programs. The .odt format saves files with .docx formatting.
MS Word does not open .odt files. If you are using OpenOffice 3.0, and want to send a file to someone with Microsoft Office, you have the option of saving it to any Word format earlier than MS Word 2007. Do remember this if you are sending out documents to a number of different people, because those with MS Word will be confused by their inability to open .odt files. You can save in .rtf or a MS Word format and the document will be accessible to Microsoft Word readers. You can also configure Open Office to save in any MS Word format as its default mode.
So, depending on the software you already own, and the space available on your hard drive, pick one of these options to open Microsoft Word documents without the need of Microsoft Word.