How Can I Download an Old Version of Word?

By Jamie Wilson

Microsoft protects most of its products vigilantly, but at one point a version of MS Word was released online for free. The reason: It needed repairs because of the Y2K issue, and it was simpler and cheaper to distribute the fixed version free to everyone than it would have been to contact each individual user with a means to download and register the program. For those who need MS Word for specific projects, there are other solutions as well.

MS Word 5.5

Most online offers for free Microsoft Word programs are either illegal or misleading. Microsoft is very careful about protecting its ownership of products. However, one version of Word was released for free in 1999: Word 5.5. This version had a serious Y2K problem that, without a fix, corrupted every document created on it before the year 2000. Microsoft's cost analysis showed that it would be more expensive to contact each individual license holder than it would be to simply release the program. So they posted it on their site, free to download.

There are some problems with this version. First, it is the last DOS-based MS Word, so computers running Windows 98 or later will only run it in the built-in DOS emulator. Windows 7 computers may not be able to run it at all without a downloaded DOS emulator like DOSBox. Second, it is no longer a supported version, so it's difficult to resolve problems it may cause and difficult to find documentation for it. A quick search on Amazon or Barnes & Noble does turn up some old how-to books on this version, however.

MS Works Suite

You may not have to download a copy of MS Word at all. If you have MS Works Suite on your computer, the word processor included is an older version of MS Word. Because of compatibility problems with Windows ME and earlier, no version later than Word 2002 was ever included, but this version is probably enough for most people.

Open Office: Another Solution for Many

If you're looking for a cheap or free word processor that is compatible with MS Word, or if you are just looking for a word processor in general, the open-license Open Office is a good solution. This freeware product runs on most modern platforms with no problems, and it is mostly compatible with MS Word's format. Unless you're planning to do some heavy graphics work, team editing or similarly high-end word processor work, Open Office's word processor Write should work just fine for you.