Reading Old Microsoft Word 5 Files in Mac OS X

How Do I Read That Damned Old File?


Well, I've been using Macs since 1987, so that means I have a lot of old files in old file formats laying around.  How does one read these files on a Mac OS X computer? Especially the Intel kinds, which don't let you run Classic Mac OS 7 anymore? 


The worst problem is the old MS Word 5.1 files.  Nowadays, MS Word is kind of a behemoth, but back in the old days, MS Word 5.1a was arguably the best word processor in existence. This is probably literally the last Microsoft product that any Mac user has ever loved (as opposed to tolerated or endured). 


Anyway, for some reason, the new Microsoft Words (2004 and 2008) do not open up all of these old files properly, nor do the Windows Word 2003 and 2007.  For some other reason, the version of MacLinkPlus Deluxe wouldn't do it either (I don't have this handy to verify this... it's also $80).


First, Try The Official Translators

  1. Open it up in a recent Office.  It's possible it will work the way it should.
  2. Open it in Textedit.  This should at least get you the text of the document, which might satisfy you.
  3. Download the free LibreOffice and hope that its translators will do the job.

Second, Try This Elaborate, But Free Approach

  1. Go to this marvelous page about running Wordperfect on Intel Macs.
  2. Halfway down there is a link to a marvelous little Mac OS 7 emulator packaged up nicely. Use the Basilisk II version.
  3. When you install that, you get a little program Basilisk II that pretends to be an old 68K OS 7 Mac. Very nostalgic.
    1. (Apr 27 2016) You might get an error about missing values in ~/Library/Preferences/org.wpdos.wpmacapp.plist. You need to edit the .plist file on the OS X side at your home directory/Library/Preferences/org.wpdos.wpmacapp.plist to add the property with: key of “DataPath” and value of “/tmp”. If you have Xcode installed, it includes Property List Editor which can edit the .plist. In case you can’t edit it, You can download a zip of my .plist file. Backup your current one and then copy the downloaded file to your ~/Library/Preferences folder.  I don’t take any responsibility if this messes up your system!!
    2. (June 21, 2017) I got a nice note from the emulator author, Edward Mendelson saying: I just came across this page on your site where you pointed out a flaw in one of my Mac OS emulators that I had never noticed. I’ve now fixed it. The problem was that I stupidly set up the WPMacApp68K emulator so that it read the same plist.info file as my other emulator, WPMacApp. If you had already run the other emulator, then the one that you had trouble with would work correctly, because the other one correctly set up the plist.info file. But if you had never run the other one, then the 68K one would perform as you reported. 

      It now works correctly, and you should have no trouble transferring files to and from the emulator. 

      However, you’ll find it much easier to use this one:
  4. Now, I tried to actually install Word 5.1a on that emulator, but it failed for reasons I am too impatient to sort out.  So instead...
  5. I found in the main hard drive a folder called Conversions which contains Maclink Plus 11, that great old file converter. Run this.
  6. This reads MS Word 5.1 files almost perfectly and will save to Word 98.  These files are read very well by Mac Word 2004, 2008. Notice how you can navigate to your user folder via an alias on your virtual desktop.

That's it. If you have a better way, let me know and I'll update the page.   - Eric Hsu <erichsu@sfsu.edu>


Third: if you have Snow Leopard or earlier, MaclinkPlus Deluxe 16 Works!

(Jul 25 2011) Update: MaclinkPlus Deluxe does NOT work under Lion because Rosetta (PowerPC translator) won't run. You'll need Snow Leopard.


Well, it's $80, but if you do a lot of translating, it might be worth it to you.  Or it might be worth it to avoid installing Basilisk, etc. 


Anyway, MaclinkPlus Deluxe 16 does read MS Word 5.1 files all right. I assume most of their other filters are working all right, but beware that they seem to have dropped support for some "obsolete" files along the way. If that happens to be the format you need, check out the Basilisk II package above in case MacLinkPlus Deluxe 11 still has that old support.