Making Works Work

My mother-in-law finally decided to get a new computer, making the jump—like so many others—from Windows XP to Windows 7. As the tech-slave of the family, I was (happily) tasked with finding the best machine I could under $400. What I settled on was the K330-77472NU, a Lenovo with 6GB of RAM and a pre-i-series Intel, currently retailing for $379 at Best Buy. And after installing MSE and Microsoft Office Starter 2010, I thought I had her ready to go.

As any techie will tell you, the hardest part of getting anyone onto a new machine is migrating their data and applications. While I was able to recover my family member’s documents from her failing drive, I hadn’t considered the possibility that they were all created in the now-discontinued Microsoft Works format. Had I a Works 9 SE disc laying around (which still installs on Windows 7 just fine), or she’d purchased Microsoft Office, opening her old docs wouldn’t have been harder than right-clicking one and selecting, “Open with”.

Microsoft Office Starter 2010—the free, ad based version—is different than it’s brethren in that it’s entirely virtualized with Click-to-run, and doesn’t provide actual executables for Word and Excel. The confusion around virtualization is nicely illustrated in this thread, which I ran across on Microsoft Answers when looking for a solution. And then it hit me, “If we can’t get Office Starter to open other file types, can we convince it that Works files are Office documents?”

The HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT registry key contains all mappings for which programs should be used to open which types of files, among many other things. In it, you’ll find a key for .xls, the standard extension for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. And what happens if we export that key, modify the .xls entries to .xlr (Microsoft Works spreadsheet) and re-import it? Not only will Works spreadsheets open in Office, the program is smart enough to detect the old formatting and display it correctly!

You can download the ugly .xlr to .xls registry hack from my SkyDrive account.