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  1. #1
    New Lounger
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    Sep 2004
    Lake Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
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    RTF versus DOC - what's the difference? (Word2003/SP1)

    What is the difference, other than the extension, between a Word document and a Rich Text Format document?
    I've set my Word2003 to save as Word97-2003 (so that it doesn't tempt me into using a 2003 goodie that doesn't exist in, say,
    Word97) and sometimes my documents save as RTF and sometimes as DOC but I can't see the difference, even their size seems to be the same if I deliberately save two copies - one in each format. Even the hyperlinks to other documents seem to work just fine. So, what's the difference? And why would one use one particular format rather than the other?

  2. #2
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Feb 2001
    Silicon Valley, USA
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    Re: RTF versus DOC - what's the difference? (2003)

    RTF, like HTML or PostScript, consists of plain text marked up with formatting commands. The RTF language is something of a nightmare, as you will see if you open an RTF document in Notepad (which will show you all the gory details) and the need to represent image data using keyboard characters means that any DOC containing images that is saved to RTF will be huge. Still, RTF has its uses. In particular, most word processing programs can import and export in the RTF format across platforms (e.g., *nix, Mac), and there are converters to make RTF into PDF and vice versa.

    The DOC format is based on Microsoft's proprietary OLE technology. If you open a Word document in a text editor, you find a lot of non-keyboard characters, then lots of document text, then a lot of formatting information. This structure apparently is efficient for Word to work with, and it is good at compressing BMP images, but strange things can happen when the document becomes corrupted (for example, I've seen bold and highlight attributes move 250 characters backwards in the document). Some programs, such as and WordPerfect can import and export in the DOC format fairly accurately.

    Your comment about the format is not 100% true. The file format from Word 97-2003 is the same, but to prevent new features from being inserted into the document, you have to set an option on the Save tab of the Tools>Options... dialog. In Word 2002, it's at the bottom, and reads "Disable features introduced after: [dropdown list]."

    Edited to add: When you save a Word DOC to RTF, any macros in the document are stripped. Thus, some businesses choose to send out their Word documents as RTF files to minimize the chances of spreading a macro virus. However, some other useful features also may be stripped, such as the password set when you choose Tools>Protect Document, so I wouldn't suggest that you save over your originals with RTF formatted versions of your documents.

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