WP5.1 File Conversion Problems

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 1, 2015)

Subscriber C.S. Jacobsen works in a small office that uses both Word and WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. Because Word understands WP5.1, and WP5.1 doesn't understand Word, it was decided to simply save Word documents in WP5.1 format, by default, so they could be shared by all users.

The only problem with this approach is that the older WP5.1 doesn't have the ability to store all the formatting information that is collected during the course of developing a document in Word. Thus, Word must either approximate some of the formatting information it maintains into comparable WP5.1 capabilities, or simply strip some of the formatting information completely. The result may be satisfactory when the document is loaded into WP5.1, but will be less than satisfactory when loading the document back into Word.

For example, I did a test with a rather generic Word 97 document. I formatted a few paragraphs with the default Normal style (NewCenturySchlbk 10), a few were explicitly formatted to a larger character font (Arial 12), a few to Heading 3 style (Arial 12), and finally a few to a different character font (Brush Script 10). I then saved the document in WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS format, closed the document in Word, and then reopened the document I just saved.

Upon reloading, Word opened the document OK, but the formatting was "messed up," by Word standards. The paragraphs that had been formatted in the default Normal style (NewCenturySchlbk 10) appeared OK, as were the paragraphs explicitly formatted as Arial 12. Those paragraphs previously formatted with Heading 3 style had that style stripped off, even though the characters appeared OK. In addition, there were hidden {PRIVATE} fields around the paragraphs to contain information that WP5.1 needs for formatting headings. The most noticeable difference in the document was in the final formatted paragraphs. What started out as Brush Script 10 now ended up as Courier New 10.

This small test simply illustrates the problem in converting between document formats. This is not a Word problem, per se, but a problem that can appear any time you convert between incompatible formats. What makes them incompatible? The absence of the exact same feature set in each format. Any time a feature is missing in one format, then approximations have to be made and original capabilities can be lost.

This example test doesn't illustrate some of the more severe problems that can crop up. For instance, let's say that the original Word document had been based on a specific template (not Normal.Dot). When the document was saved in WP5.1, the information about the template would have been lost (WP5.1 doesn't understand the concept of Word templates), even though there would have been approximations on font and paragraph spacing saved in the document. When that same document was then loaded back into Word, there was nothing in the file to indicate that the different template should be used, so the default Normal.Dot template would be used. This could present more formatting "oddities" in the converted document.

So what is the solution? The most obvious solution that presents itself is to standardize on a single word processing platform. (It is a business decision as to which platform that is, of course.) That decision to standardize can often be traumatic and painful for an organization. Thus, if it is not possible to standardize, then accommodations will need to be made. For instance, you could make sure that only Normal.Dot is used for all Word documents. You can also forget utilizing some of the advanced formatting features of Word that have no equivalent feature in WP5.1--they just won't make the round-trip translation properly. This includes features such as forms, template-based styles, macros, etc.

You could also try saving documents in the RTF format, which is understood by most all word processing programs and, I believe, by WP5.1 for DOS. Choosing this route will take some testing, however, as there can be incompatibilities in the implementation of RTF on different platforms. In other words, WP5.1 and Word use different RTF filters, and therefore may not translate everything the same.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (565) applies to Microsoft Word , , , , and .

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


Entering the Current Time

Need to enter the current time into a cell? It?s easy to do using this keyboard shortcut. The shortcut is a handy one to know ...

Discover More

Moving and Selecting Sheets with the Keyboard

Hate to take your fingers off the keyboard? Here's how you can move from worksheet to worksheet without touching the mouse.

Discover More

Printing a Short Selection

Want to print just a selection from within your document? It's easy to do when you print using the Print dialog box.

Discover More

The First and Last Word on Word! Bestselling For Dummies author Dan Gookin puts his usual fun and friendly candor back to work to show you how to navigate Word 2013. Spend more time working and less time trying to figure it all out! Check out Word 2013 For Dummies today!


PRIVATE Fields in WordPerfect Documents

Did you ever convert a document from WordPerfect and see PRIVATE fields in it? Here's what those fields mean.

Discover More

Converting WordPerfect Labels to Word

If you are relatively new to Word from the WordPerfect world, you may have a bunch of labels in a WordPerfect document that ...

Discover More

Reliable Conversion to WordPerfect

If you have documents that you need to save in WordPerfect format, you might experience some frustration in making the ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments for this tip:

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)