How to Open a File Without the Program That Created It

by Contributor

Certain strategies will allow you to open a file without having the software that created it. These instructions are for Windows 98.

Configure Another Software Application to Open the File

Open My Computer or Windows Explorer.

In the View menu, click on Folder Options.

Click on the File Types tab. You'll see a list of file types and the software applications that are used to open them.

Select the file type that you want to change. For example, suppose you have a GIF file and you want to open it in Paint Shop Pro. Select GIF files from the list.

Click Edit.

In the Actions box, select Open, then click on Edit.

Refer to the Program Used To Perform Action box. Use the Browse button to find the program that you want to open your file - in the example above, you would look for Paint Shop Pro. Note that you will need to select the program file -usually one ending in .exe.

Click OK. Click OK again.

Save to an Earlier Version of Your Software Program

If someone has sent you a file created in a later version of a program than what you have, ask the person to resave the file to your version of the program. Here's what you should tell that person to do.

Open the file.

From the File menu, select Save As.

In the File Type menu (or equivalent) choose the program version required.

Click Save.

Close the file and reopen it to inspect it for formatting changes. Make adjustments if needed.

Use a Reader

Determine if a reader exists for the document's format. (It's sometimes possible to obtain readers that open and read certain file formats. For example, Microsoft Word offers a free reader that will allow you to read Word documents without having Word software.)

Download or otherwise obtain the reader you need and install it on your hard drive.

Follow provided instructions to open and read your document.


  • check To be safe, make a copy of your file before you try opening it in a different software application. That way, if there is any type of problem with the file, you will have a backup copy.
  • check When converting to an earlier version of a software program, it is advisable to use a different file name when "Saving As." This allows you to keep your original file in the event that errors occur during saving to the earlier version.
  • check Some readers are free; others may be for sale.


  • close Not all software applications will open all file formats correctly. For example, you cannot open a graphic file, such as a GIF file, in a word processor. Check the program's documentation to see what kinds of file formats it can open.
  • close Formatting or other information may be lost when saving to an earlier version.

Items you will need