Why I don't accept .doc files
Why don't I like to receive Microsoft Word Documents? There are a number of reasons for this, but you should carefully consider whether you want to send or receive Word Documents.
Please note that although I am asking you not to send me Word document files, my main aim is to discourage you from sending anyone these files. I'm happy to ignore your attachments and the risks they carry, but others may not. I'm not sure that they will appreciate an apology afterwards. The biggest problem here is ignorance, not malice.
Here's how to save a file as a small, rich text format file. This type of file contains most of the formatting information in your original Word document, but is much smaller, cannot contain viruses and doesn't have all the history stored.
- Virus files
I suspect that this is one of the most important reasons for not accepting Word documents. No matter how careful you are, no matter how careful your correspondents, you cannot be sure that you will not fall vistim to a macro virus or worse. Yet you are not downloading a program, which you might expect to contain executable code, but a document, which ought to contain nothing but information. Unfortunately, this is not the case: Word documents contain lots more than just information.
- Large files
Word files are enormous by comparison with other files containing the same amount of data. I have just created a Word document containing nothing more than a limerick. This file runs to 19,456 bytes! The same file as a rich text format file is 2,225 bytes and a plain text file containing the same text is only 195 characters. I accept that formatting information is lost in the text file, but a hundred times bigger is surely too high a price to pay. Rich text formats might be an acceptable compomise as not everyone wants to read unformatted text.
- Insecure files
If you are not careful, you could be sending your secrets. By default, Word documents contain a full history of what they contained each time they were saved. If you save the same document many times, you may be giving your recipient the opportunity to see what you said to others recently. This may include confidential information you may not wish them to see. Sometimes, for example, you might be sending the same request for information to competitors or be presenting the same facts with a slightly (or significantly) different emphasis. You probably don't want your recipients to know this.
- Proprietary files
This will come as an enormous shock to many people: not everybody uses Microsoft products. By various means which are debated elsewhere, Microsoft have reached a dominant position in many markets, but this does not mean that everybody uses their products. Some people have ideological reasons for choosing not to use Microsoft products; others don't use them because their systems do not support them. if you send documents to people who cannot read them, you might as well be sending documents in a language they don't speak. If your information is important enough for you to want people to read it, you probably want them to be able to read it. How much of this document would you have attempted to read if it had been written in Portuguese? Even if you thought it was important, how much effort would you go to for a document in Portuguese.
Do you have any other reasons you choose not to receive Microsoft Word documents? Or do you have some particular compelling reason why you do choose to send and receive Word documents? If so, please let me know!
- Open (or create) your document file
- Choose File/Save As
- Choose Save As type Rich Text Format (*.rtf)
- Check that the file name now ends with .rtf
- Click on the Save button
Unfortunately, there are people who go into something like PANIC! when asked to do something difficult, like for example, saving a file in something other than Word Document format. With assistance, I recently managed to calm someone down enough to listen and be shown how to save files as .RTF and by the time I arrived home, I had a copy of a rich text file from this person in my inbox. The following day, however, this same person forwarded me a .DOC from a third party.
Rich Text Format files are not good at handling embedded images, so many organisations insist on sending document files because their template includes their logo and RTF files are LARGER than documents as a result. This is astounding. (Not that the files are larger, but that organisations prefer their logo to files that their customers and members can open more safely.)
In May 2001, The Register told us that it isn't even entirely safe to open .RTF file any longer. The story is here, but in case that link expires, the text is here.
While it's true that all recent versions of MS Office supposedly
require the user's permission to run a macro, a wee little oversight at
Redmond Security Central makes it possible for an RTF (Rich Text
Format) document opened by Word to execute a macro
automatically if it's embedded in a template.
"When Word is used to open a document thatís based on a
template, both the document and the template should be checked for
macros. This vulnerability involves a case in which this isnít done
correctly," an MS security bulletin explains, doing its damnedest not
to say 'we goofed'.
Macros run on a machine or network at the user's level of
permission, so of course a malicious one can perform quite a lot of
In this case, developing an exploit would be child's play. The
required template could be fetched from a remote location, such as
a Web site to which the feature-rich Word can connect automatically.
This would be the preferred MO for someone trying to propagate via
e-mail a macro virus exploiting the RTF vulnerability.
RTF is something of the lingua franca of word processing, readable
by just about every application ever designed, so it's still in common
use wherever people have to collaborate whilst using different software.
Affected programs include Word 97; Word 98 (J); Word 2000; Word
98 (Mac); and Word 2001 (Mac), but not Word 2002.
"Previous versions [of Word] are no longer supported and may or
may not be affected by this vulnerability," MS says. It's reasonable to
assume that they are affected, so there we have one more little
motive to upgrade. ģ
Just in case you trust this site in case to want to update your copies of MS-Word, the files to do it are
To run the patch for Word 97, you are recommended to have Service Release 2 already installed. To get service Release 2, you have to download Service Release 1. SR-1 is 8680 KB, SR-2 is 23599 KB, this update is 3520 KB... just love downloading 37 megabytes, don't you? Like the same as both Star Wars video trailers but not quite so much fun?
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