Blog Post

Open and Save Word Documents With TextEdit


Microsoft (s msft) Word was one of my favorite and most-used applications back in the early days. I started Mac (s aapl) word processing first with Word 4 and upgraded to Word 5.1 in 1993. Amazingly, that old application still starts up and works fine in Classic Mode on my G4 PowerBook.

However, the disastrous Word 6 broke my Word habit, and Word 5.1 was the last Microsoft software I ever bought. I’ve turned to other software ever since for text crunching and word processing, and don’t really miss Word except when someone sends me a Word document, or when I need to send a file to someone who works in Word.

Word-Centric World

In a Word-centric world, odds are that you will encounter Microsoft Word-formatted (.doc) documents fairly frequently, in email attachments, files produced by Word-user colleagues, or informational data downloaded from the Internet.

Happily, this is not as much of a problem as it used to be for us non-Word users. Many, in fact most, word processors can open and save Word files these days with formatting rendered reasonably faithfully..


TextEdit Can Likely Handle It

If you’re using Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5, you don’t need any other Word-savvy software other than OS X’s bundled TextEdit program, which these days warrants categorization as a full-fledged, albeit lightweight, word processor. When you need to open or save Microsoft Word-formatted documents, TextEdit can usually handle the job, and the version in OS 10.5 Leopard is the best iteration of the program yet. Unless you need perfect formatting rendition, TextEdit is up to the task.


TextEdit can open .doc files with basic formatting, such as fonts, text formatting (bold, italic, etc.), colors, line spacing, alignment and justification sustained reasonably intact. More advanced formatting, such as borders, style sheets, graphics, footnotes, bulleted lists, and such don’t often don’t survive the conversion accurately or at all. Most tables seem to translate OK, although not necessarily appearing exactly as they would in Word.

When you save a TextEdit document as a Word file, some of that sort of advanced formatting stuff actually will make the transition in the other direction, notably buttons, numbering and tables, but not style sheets. Just select one of the three Word document format options (Word 2007, Word 97 or Word 2003) and you’ve got a Word document file.


Consequently, as with the famous cartoon depicting a dog surfing the web with a computer, captioned: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog,” with Leopard TextEdit, no one has to know you don’t have Microsoft Word. Which in certain circles, might help with your credibility.

14 Responses to “Open and Save Word Documents With TextEdit”

  1. There are a number of free add on word count options. Now that I use Bean, which has a live word count displayed in every window, I’m not up to date, but I bet if you go to versiontracker or macupdate and search for “word count,” and you’ll probably find one called Word Count, another called Word Counter, another called NanoCount, maybe more. There might even be a word count Service around, and Devon’s free Word Services has a Statistics option that displays word count, character count, etc.
    Some of these require you to affirmatively ask for a word count rather than having it floating there all the time, but at least one gives you a little floating window with the count displayed and updated as you type.

  2. Charles Moore (!)

    I’m still behind with Sys 10.4 or so using Textedit and I like it. But, one thing is missing. How can I get a fairly accurate word count?

    (a different) Charles Moore

  3. We haven’t needed to buy Word to get Word-compatibility for years now. Along with TextEdit, there’s the free Bean word processor, which has all the features and simplicity of TextEdit plus a few other basic features and a nice interface; Bean will handle 90+ percent of most people’s writing needs.
    You can also use the free NeoOffice or OpenOffice to read and write Word compatible files.
    You don’t need an applescript to make TextEdit open Word files. As with any Mac app, just select any Word file, select Get Info (command-I), scroll down to “Open With,” and change the default app to TextEdit or Bean or whatever, and then click the little box that says “Use this application to open all documents like this.”

  4. >>non-tech users might adjust to the Inspector>>

    Technically, I’m not a tech — just a long time Mac user. If I never see another Inspector Panel, it won’t be too soon. That particular interface element just leaves me cold. In contrast, I have no problem with the Toolbox in Word 2008. To be fair, the Inspector Panel seems geared more towards the design aspect of iWork — little of which applies to me.

    It seems a bit unfair to blame Microsoft for the limited Word compatibility offered by Pages, and to a lesser extent, TextEdit. Microsoft makes no claims in this department. Apple does — quite clearly in fact. More often than not, the promise of compatibility exceeds the reality.

    TextEdit is a fine program — surprisingly useful. In fact, one of the charms of OS X concerns all of its included mini-apps. TextEdit, Dictionary, Stickies, Preview…clean and simple programs to handle my basic computing chores.

  5. No idea where I got this, but this script is great with a launcher which will execute Applescripts (Butler, Keyboard Maestro, QuicKeys, Spark, etc.). Since I have Word and TextEdit on my machine, this is helpful when I want to open Word files in TextEdit.

    property the_app : “TextEdit”

    tell application “Finder”
    set the_selection to the selection
    end tell

    repeat with each_item in the_selection
    do shell script (“open -a ” & (quoted form of the_app) & space & (quoted form of (POSIX path of (each_item as alias))))
    end repeat

    As a bonus, you can simply change the listing for TextEdit in the script for other uses. I have one for when I want to open files in TextWrangler, images I want to open in Preview instead of Photoshop, PDFs I want to view in Tofu. The possibilities and convenience are great.

  6. Daniel Folsom

    Adam: Apple’s Pages is part of iWork – I do use that, but the hyperlink problem described above still applies. And unfortunately those who are not technically proficient would either not know (or not remember) to fix that hyperlink bug (and regardless of whether it’s caused by Word’s bad code – Pages claims to be Word compatible, so it is a bug). And Word is THE word processor used by the vast majority, so I can’t in good-faith recommend iWork (or TextEdit) given the inability to interpret something as basic and common as a hyperlink correctly. (If this were fixed, I would probably recommend iWork, although sometimes I work about how non-tech users might adjust to the Inspector …)

  7. Why not recommend iWork rather than WORD and/or Office? Textedit is a great utility, but hardly heavyweight and nor was it designed to be. I converted to Pages and Keynote a couple of years ago. What strikes me is their simplicity. Exceptionally intuitive with capable heavyweight features. Particularly strong is their object handling. What would take too long in WORD or Powerpoint is accomplished in seconds. They export beautifully. Occasionally you will find a formatting problem with Office but, sad to say, that’s because of Microsoft’s lousy code. Microsoft seem to have adopted a strategy of non-compliance as part of a bid to protect market share. IE is the most obvious candidate [ensure that developers have to code specifically for IE in a bid to frustrate everyone into ignoring FF et al……..not successful], but it applies to Office too.

  8. Daniel Folsom

    What really bugs me about both Apple’s Pages and TextEdit software insofar as their ability to open Word documents is how they handle links – this is actually visible in the screenshot of the Mikigo file in this article

    ( – if formatted in the doc, turn into:
    ( HYPERLINK “”

    (with the latter address being formatted). I don’t use MS Office for Mac, but if I have a friend who has purchased a mac, unless that friend is text-savy I usually have to recommend MS Office.

  9. I actually JUST figured this out by accident two days ago! But I do have one question…how would one go about seeing the “full page” view in TextEdit? I like tha word shows you the while page contained in one window with the edge of the document clearly visible. TextEdit seems to just be a random white blank window with no visible borders. This makes centering text, adjusting margins and things like that very difficult.

    Perhaps an article on ‘how-to’ use TextEdit Like you would use word would be helpful.

    Good article!