I’ve been editing a manuscript in .docx format for the past two days. Up until now, Word hadn’t been giving me any problems. (I use Word 2008 for Mac.) But when I tried to open it today, it suddenly popped up an error window saying:

The file [filename].docx cannot be opened because there are problems with the contents.

Unspecified error

Location: 2

Google let me know that this is a common problem with .docx files, a bug that Microsoft knows about but hasn’t fixed yet. (Maybe it’s fixed in the most recent version of Office for Windows; I don’t know. I’m using the most recent possible version of Office on a Mac.) Great. Just another day with Word: completely bizarre, unpredictable aggravations.

I found this page about possible fixes. Once I read it was possible to fix manually with a text editor, I got cocky. After all, it’s just markup, right? How hard could it be? I can handle LaTeX; surely I can handle this.

Dear God. Don’t even bother. The XML makes no sense at all. The specific instructions at that link are for corrupt entries in a Table of Contents. This manuscript didn’t have a TOC. So I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for in this huge block of bizarre XML. I gave up on it.

And downloaded OpenOffice. I haven’t used OpenOffice much since I switched to the Mac. But it was just like I remembered it: most of the same features as Word, but without the hassle. It imported the “corrupted” .docx file without a murmur of complaint and let me finish editing it with Track Changes. The edit was completed on time and sent on its way.

So I’m here to recommend OpenOffice. I’ve been recommending it for at least the last ten years to anyone who needs to use Office regularly. I love the iWork suite for laying out my own documents, spreadsheets, and creating my own presentations. But if you really need a Word clone, or you’re on Windows or Linux, or you need it to be totally free: you can’t do better than OpenOffice.