Every effort is being made to make the documents available on the course pages as compatible as possible with the largest number of systems and software. I will try to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each format here with links to useful sites and information to help you open mystery documents.
An important term to know is "File Extensions." They are the part after the "." at the end of a document (or application) on your computer. By default, these are hidden for Windows and Mac users. This can lead to problems when someone sends you a document such as "example" rather than "example.doc." If you know the type of document it was supposed to be, you can often simply change the name to have the correct file extension. However, if you do not know what kind of document it was, you may be at a loss. This is a particular problem for Mac users as the extension is simply more hidden and more difficult to reveal. Most applications on Macs will have an "Append File Extension" check box the first time you save a document. I recommend turning it on every time you see it.
PDF Docuements: example.pdf
Portable Document Format (PDF) files are the most universal because they can be read with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader or directly in your web browser once Adobe Acrobat Reader has been installed. Mac users can also open PDF files with Preview which comes installed with every Mac. The downside is that these are "read only" documents, you cannot edit them unless you purchase Adobe Acrobat. However, you can make them yourself if you need to share a document that no one else will need to edit.
To Create PDF Files:
On a Mac, simply select File > Print. When the dialog box comes up, select the "Save as PDF" button. Make sure to include .pdf as part of the file name.
On a Windows computer, the newest version of Word has "Export to PDF" as an option in the Save menu.
If you want to create PDF files from almost any application on a Windows computer (including older versions of Office), I recommend the free software Primo PDF.
To simply read a PDF document, you can download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Microsoft Office Documents: example.doc, example.xls, example.ppt, example.docx, example.xlsx, example.pps
Microsoft Office is the most widely used office productivity software in the world, but it is available in many different versions and the newest version is not backwards compatible with older versions. It is also relatively expensive if not pre-installed on your computer. Older Word documents are ".doc" but newer ones are ".docx". Many users are frustrated when trying to open what they know to be a "Word document" but find their version will not open it. If you have an older version of Office (back to 2000 for Windows and Version X for Mac) you can download useful conversion tools from the Microsoft website.
Mac File Converter for Office 2004, Office X
Windows File Converter for Office 2003, Office 2000
You must run download all available updates to Office before installing these.
OpenOffice Documents: example.odt
OpenOffice is an office productivity suite which is intended as a replacement for Microsoft Office with the significant advantage that it is free. There are complaints that it opens slower and uses more system resources than Microsoft Office, so many users with Microsoft Office prefer Microsoft Office. However, OpenOffice will open the new ".docx" file types, allows you to save as ".doc" files as well as ".pdf" directly from the Save menu. OpenOffiice is quickly becoming adopted as a standard and is, in fact, the standard for Birthingway's internal documents.
You can download OpenOffice for free, but it is over 300MB and will take a long time over many internet connections. If you are a Birthingway student, please contact the Technical Coordinator on our Contact Us page to arrange borrowing a Flash Drive or CD with the software on it. Use the pull down menu to select "Technical Issue." We recommend that every student have this software.
If you have a Gmail account, you have access to Google Documents. When you are in Gmail, in the upper left hand corner there is a link for Documents. Click that and then the Upload button on the next page. You can upload almost any type of document. If you select "Convert documents..." the document will be editable in Google Docs. Google Docs does not offer as many options in terms of formatting (fonts, colors, borders, etc.), but it will let you open and edit just about any kind of document. Google Docs has the added advantages that it is available from any computer with an internet connection and a browser so your documents are technically everywhere (in the Cloud) and even allows you to work on the document simultaneously with multiple people, seeing each other's edits as you type. Once you are done, you can "Download as" a Word, OpenOffice or PDF document or simply share it directly from Google Documents with other Gmail users. Gmail accounts are free, but through the special Apps For Education program at Google all Birthingway students will receive access to Google Docs as part of their @birthingway.edu account starting in Spring of 2011.
Pages (Mac Only)
Pages is a word processor that often comes pre-installed on Apple computers. It is a powerful application, but the documents are not easily shared with other computers. The file extension (which you will not see) is actually ".pages". When you send it as an email, this is stripped and people will often receive "example" rather than "example.pages" even when sending to other Apple computers. There is no application on a Windows computer that will open a Pages document, even though Pages will open many other types of documents. If you use Pages, I recommend exporting to PDF (if the other user will not need to edit it) or Word (.doc) format if they do. Even if they are using one of these other applications, they will still be able to open a ".doc" file.
I hope this is helpful. If you have any other questions or issues with documents, please contact the Technical Coordinator by using the Contact Us page and selecting "Technical Issue" from the drop-down menu.