Understanding Word 2010’s Two Compatibility Modes (Yes… Two!)


I upgraded from Word 2007 to Word 2010. Save defaults to the latest Word format, but when I create a new document, it shows as being in Compatibility mode. Why?



Most users think of pre-Word 2007 *.doc files as being in Compatibility mode, and *.docx files as being Word 2007 and Word 2010 files. But, it’s not that simple. Word 2010 introduced several new features that were not present in Word 2007, most notably improvements to the graphics capabilities. As a result. Word 2010 *.docx files do not share the identical format with Word 2007 *.docx files, despite the fact that they both use .docx as the extension.

As a result, there are two Compatibility modes—not just one: We now have doc for Word 97-2003 files, and docx for Word 2007 files. When the latter format is in effect, the docx extension is used, but you will still see [Compatibility Mode] in Word’s title bar. Hence, if you edit a docx file created in Word 2007 using Word 2010, you see Compatibility Mode in the title bar.

“Okay,” you might wonder. “But, why does it say “Compatibility Mode” even for brand new documents I create using Word 2010.”

This occurs because the underlying document template—usually Normal.dotm—is still in Word 2007 format! To resolve this issue, edit Normal.dotm itself and convert it to Word 2010 format.

To edit Normal.dotm, you need to open it as you would open an ordinary document file. If you use Windows Explorer and double-click on Normal.dotm, Word will create a new document based on it, rather than edit that file. Instead, open Normal.dotm from Word 2010 itself. In Windows 7, Normal.dotm usually is stored in a folder named:


except that your user name probably isn’t Herb. You can navigate there manually, but it’s usually easiest to use a default location shortcut that Word creates for you. Press Ctrl+O (File – Open) in Word. You should see a list of locations at the left, including one called Templates, as shown here.

This is the default location for user templates in Word 2010. Click on that location (or, if you don’t see Templates, then navigate to that location). Among the files shown at the right, you should see Normal.dotm. Click on it, and then click on Open. Or, if you want to convert a different document template file, then open it instead.

At that top of Word’s window, you will see the name of the template followed by [Compatibility Mode]. Choose File – Convert, as shown here:

Word prompts you to confirm the conversion. Tick the “Do not ask…” box if you’re so inclined. Personally, I need to know whenever this happens, so I leave it unticked. Then click OK.

At the top of Word’s window, [Compatibility Mode] will now go away. You should now close the template file, saying Yes if prompted to save it.

Finally, create a new file based on the template you just edited to confirm that the conversion worked. If you just converted Normal.dotm, then when you press Ctrl+N (the shortcut for creating a new document based on Normal.dotm), you should get a new document (Document #), but should no longer see [Compatibility Mode] in the title bar.

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39 Responses to Understanding Word 2010’s Two Compatibility Modes (Yes… Two!)

  1. Thanks for this, Herb. I realize now that I flubbed the answer to a recent question about the .docx file format. In future, I’ll refer folks to this article.

  2. herbt3 says:

    I actually didn’t understand this at first either when I wrote the Bible–I thought it was a bug in Word 2910. I think I got the scoop about this from Beth Melton.

  3. Xavier says:

    I’ve actually gone through this process as well as many others, but the compatibility mode still sticks.

    I have tried converting, deleting, moving, and renaming the Normal.dotm file numerous times, but the new file that is created still comes up in Compatibility mode.

    Is there another setting that still forces this?

  4. herbt3 says:

    Are you sure there isn’t another Normal.dotm (or possibly a leftover Normal.dot) that Word is using? Check the location you see at File – Options – Advanced – File Locations – User Templates… and see if there is a Normal.dot file in addition to the Normal.dotm file. If you delete or move Normal.dotm, Word will try to use a Normal.dot file if it finds one. This will also make it default to compatibility mode. (However, after converting Normal.dotm to Word 2010 format, that should override earlier versions of Normal.dot, which should’ve made the problem go away.)

  5. Jon says:

    ‘Fraid this didn’t work for me. My Normal.dotm is definitely in Word 2010 format, and doesn’t open in compatibility mode. However when I double click it the resulting doc is. So there must be something else lurking there. Ideas anyone?

  6. herbt3 says:

    There’s a clue in there somewhere… When you double-click what?

    I create a new .docx by opening Word, or by pressing Ctrl+N from within Word… and then saving the file. Initially, it’s called Document1, Document2, etc. When I press Ctrl+S, Word offers Doc1.docx, Doc2.docx, etc., and the resulting file is in Word 2010 format, and not in compatibility mode.

    Note that none of this involves double-clicking anything, so you’re doing something different from what I’m doing.

    Can you describe–step by step–what you’re doing, and at what point “Compatibility Mode” appears as a notation in the document title?

  7. Michael says:

    Hello Herb,

    [The CAPITALS are used just to highlight important points.]
    I have Office 2010 Professional installed on a very recent computer with 8GB of RAM and more than 1000 GB of hard disk space. I run Windows 7 Home Premium.

    I just bought your book and it says:
    Finally, if you have specific questions about Word 2010, please feel free to post them on my
    Word Bible blog:

    I have this tricky question about Word 2010 and I apologize for sending you such a difficult question. It is concerning the encryption scheme that is used in Word 2010 (and Office 2010 I could say). I would like to be sure to control exactly what encryption scheme that I have installed and that I use regularly to encrypt my Office 2010 documents, in particular my Word 2010 documents.

    Once I opened a Word 2003 document in Word 2010 (in compatibility mode) and it asked me if I wanted to update to a stronger encryption but I declined (wrongly I assume). Following this event, I feel that I have the older encryption schemes in place but not the stronger ones available in Word 2010.

    I would like to have AES at 256 bit installed as my default encryption scheme for use with all the Office 2010 applications, in particular with Word 2010.

    I did a lot of research on the web to try to find information on how to configure Word 2010 to accept AES at 256 bit as default. My findings are as follows. There is this Office Customization Tool in Office 2010 that is available but that is more a tool for enterprise than for an individual installation of Office 2010.

    An add-in in Office 2010 that would allow simple users to configure very thoroughly, in details Word 2010 and Office 2010 for the encryptions used would be a great addition.

    I worry that using this tool might mess up my whole Office 2010 installation. I have not tried using this OCT, I do not know at all how difficult it is to use or if there would be problems using it on a single Office 2010 installation.

    Thanks in advance for any feedback that you might have on these questions.

    See the following useful links:
    —“Plan cryptography and encryption settings for Office 2010” at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc179125.aspx .
    —“Configure security for Office 2010” at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff400327.aspx .
    —“Office Customization Tool in Office 2010” at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc179097.aspx .

  8. herbt3 says:

    Hi, Michael. This will require some time to research, since it’s not something I’ve ever looked into. I’m currently crunching on a project that’s consuming all of my spare time. So, it’ll be a while before I can get to it. However, you might also post this in Microsoft’s Answers forum: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum. It might get answered a bit sooner….

  9. Delwyn says:

    Hi Herb,

    Would the normal.dotm fix also be required if you orginially installed/used Word 2010 in compatibility mode.

    We run Office 2010 a Terminal Server RDS access site and are having some issues around Word “not responding”. Now we have removed “Compatibility Mode”, I do wonder if it is connected to opening .doc (2003) docs.

    Your feedback is very welcome.


  10. herbt3 says:

    Did turning off Compatibility [with Word 2003] Mode resolve the “not responding” issue? I’ve never used Word in that environment, so I don’t know for certain what produces the “not responding” issue in that context. I do know that I get the “not responding” message in a normal environment not only with Word, but with other applications as well, and each time, it’s due to my trying to do something before the application is ready–and I blame Windows 7′s inability to handle multitasking and multithreading efficiently. Multi-threading is not something that Windows yet handles very well. I would think that using Office that way would compound latency issues, compatibility mode notwithstanding. I would look at tweaking the process priorities on the server to see if that would reduce the incidence of the “not responding” occurrences.

  11. MarTex says:

    DAMN!! How could they do such a thing? I opened my 2010 .docx in Word 2007, made some changes, and then continued working in Word 2010. A long while after I noticed I had lost all the special effects of the tons of autoforms I had (its a +200p document). Converting brought them back, but the text inside them just disappeared! FUUUU!!!! They should have changed the file extension if it has compatibility issues… but of course that would have meant that they made deep changes badly AGAIN!

  12. herbt3 says:

    MarTex: If you’re using Windows 7, there might be hope! In Windows Explorer, right-click on the file and choose Properties. Then click the Previous Versions tab. If you’re lucky, there might be some versions from before you saved it in Word 2007. I would save every version available under a different name, then inspect each one (using Word 2010, of course) to see how much (if any) can be salvaged.

  13. chank says:

    Hi Herb,

    whenever i try to close any document file every time I’m getting prompt normal.dotm is being used by diferent user.

  14. herbt3 says:

    That can happen for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) an add-in that has opened Normal.dotm but hasn’t released it, another winword.exe session that didn’t close properly, a corrupted normal.dotm, and corrupted registry entries.

    My first guess would be an add-in. Take a look here for help in identifying add-ins:



  15. chank says:

    Thnx for your responce.
    Well only one thing which is keeping me in loop is like I’m getting this error message while I’m trying to access outlook attachments apart of that I’m nt facing any Issue in access n closing any other word documents.
    One more point i started facing this Issue aftr installing office 2010.
    I hv anthr desktop with office 2007 installed on it n I’m nt facing any Issue on it.

  16. herbt3 says:

    When it happens, dismiss the dialog, and check the Windows Task Manager processes list to see if there are multiple instances of winword.exe running.

  17. chank says:

    yes there r multiple instances of winword.exe running.

  18. herbt3 says:

    That’s most likely why you’re seeing the message, then. Try closing all of the running winword.exe processes, then re-open the document and see if the problem occurs.

  19. chank says:

    If I open the same attchement frm outlook I’m nt facing any problem neither opening nor in closing, however in the same time if i access any other document that’s were this error message comes in picture n tht’s annoying me a lot.

  20. herbt3 says:

    Are you doing anything during the session to modify normal.dotm? If so, then that’s what’s causing the conflict. If not, then you probably have an add-in that modifies normal.dotm as part of how it “works”. One solution is not to open attachments from Outlook emails–but to save them first to your HD, and then open them from the already-open instance of Word.

    If that’s not an acceptable solution, then the other solution is to identify which add-in is modifying normal.dotm, and stop using it until the developer fixes it. (This problem happens so often, that there might already be a later version of the add-in that fixes the issue.)

  21. Zack says:

    I have a quick question. I have a user that has Win 7 Pro 32bit. They also have Office 2010 32bit installed. She is opening a .doc using Word 2010 from a network share. It opens fine and she can read everything great. What she is doing though is making changes to the document and then doing a save as and saving it back as a .doc with a different name. This is where the issue is. She says the pc will lock up. Now when she goes back the save as doc is there but it’s empty. She tries it again and it works great. Win 7 Pro and Office 2010 are both up to date with sp1. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  22. herbt3 says:

    What happens if she saves the document locally, and then copies it to the network share? Is there still an issue at that point?

    Also… when she saved directly to the network share, how long does she wait before giving up? If she waits, does it eventually work? If not… then there should eventually be an error message of some kind. Is there? And, if so, what error message does she see?

  23. Carla Gray says:

    I am using Word for Mac 2011. I am trying to open Normal.dotm to edit the paragraph styles and layout. Although I can see the file via Finder (seeing hidden files), every time I try to open it, it opens a document instance instead of the actual template. In previous versions, I was able to right-click as choose Open as a Template. I don’t see this option any more. When I start from Word, and do a File > Open, it’s not showing the hidden directories (Library) where the file is located, so it doesn’t seem like I can get to it that way either.

  24. herbt3 says:

    I’m not familiar with the Mac or how files are handled. When you double-click Normal.dotm in the file system (rather than directly from Word), the default action is to create a new document based on that template. In Windows 7, when I right-click, the default action is New… which creates a new document. Also available, however, is Open, which will open Normal.dotm directly for editing. So… you’re saying that Open (in Windows, it just says Open) isn’t an option.

    Alternatively, in Word under Windows 7, the most direct method is to open Word first, then navigate to and open Normal.dotm directly from Word.

    An indirect but equally effective method is–in a new blank Document# window, modify the style using the Modify Style dialog box, and tick the “New documents base on this template” option at the bottom. For any layout options that aren’t accessible via styles, many formatting dialog boxes have a Set as Default option (usually near the bottom). When you click that option, it automatically modifies Normal.dotm. When you close the session, if you’re prompted to save changes to the underlying template, say Yes.

    I hope this helps.

  25. Regina says:

    When I open the dotm, the option of CONVERT is not there. Now what?

  26. Regina says:

    I found it. I always happens, send an email – find the solution. I went to FILE, OPTION, SAVE and changed the extension to .docx and it asked if I wanted the entire suite to be changed, I said yes, and now it no longer says Compatibility Mode.

  27. Mike says:

    I’m not having compatibility mode problems – I THINK, but all my 2010 docs show in Windows Explorer as file type “Word 2007 Document.” These are all new work saved as the default Word file docx. I did upgrade from 2007. When I open these ’2007′ docs from Explorer, Word 2010 runs and the title bar says nothing about compatibility. Am I generating 2007 docs? I don’t think I’m doing anything purely 2010 so maybe I am!
    Thanks in advance.

  28. herbt3 says:

    If it doesn’t say “(Compatibility Mode)” in Word 2010, then the files are Word 2010 .docx files. Within Windows Explorer, it should be saying simply “Microsoft Word Document” as the type. If it’s not, then the file type probably wasn’t registered correctly during the upgrade from Office 2007. What do new Excel 2010 files say? They should say “Microsoft Excel Worksheet, and not Microsoft Excel 2007 Worksheet.

    If Excel sheets are also 2007 (from within Windows Explorer), you might try repairing Office 2010. Assuming you’re running Windows 7, in Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features, click on Microsoft Office 2010, then click on Change, then choose Repair, and Continue.

  29. herbt3 says:

    Great! So, everything is working fine now?

  30. RodMcM says:

    Hi I have a new copy ofa Office 2010 on Windows 7( installed ion laptop at time of purchase and registered). I can save/edit files from Excel but not from Word2010. I had installed Adobe 9 before I used Word. When I found a problem deleted it on search about Adobe but no still joy. Tried several fixes ( repair etc) as per google search

    Have also tried deleting normal.dotm but Word does not create a new copy of it. Loosing hair at a rate of knots. Any ideas?

  31. herbt3 says:

    When you try to save, what error message are you getting?

  32. Tanya says:

    I am running Windows7 and just upgraded from 2007 to 2010 and I am having an issue with Word. When I try to open any files (including .docx) it states: Microsoft word has stopped working. Then it goes on to say: word automatically saved changes to the normal document template, do you want to download it? So I then click yes then it states Microsoft word is recovering the file, then it states Microsoft Word has stopped working. At this point I have to close the program. I then relaunch Word again and it states Word failed to start correctly last time……. do I want to start in safe mode? I then click no… then it states again: Word automatically saved changes to the normal document template, do you want to load it? And it goes on in this cycle.

    Any thoughts ??? Ugh—please help!

  33. Joe Blow says:

    Great article! Certainly cleared that up for me….oh the confusions you run into when you don’t take the time to study the manual or supporting textbooks….haha

  34. Arzu says:

    I recently upgraded my Office 2003 to Office 2010. The new Word documents pen in compatibility mode (compatibility for 2003) and when I try to save a new document it suggests .doc extension. I renamed, deleted, converted my normal.dotm file. When I right click on my normal.dotm file and open it it is in 2010 format but when I open a new file it open in 2003 compatibility mode and saves in .doc. Any suggestions?

  35. herbt3 says:

    Check Tools – Options – Save, and ensure that Save files in this format: is set to Word Document (*.docx).

  36. herbt3 says:

    It sounds like you have either corrupted registry entries or a corrupted Normal.dotm (or a misbehaving add-in). For the first, I would try renaming Word’s Data and/or Options keys in the registry. They are found here:


    If you don’t know how to edit the registry, I suggest you check here:


    and look for the Fix It For Me link.

    For the second, try renaming Normal.dotm–while Word is NOT running. Word will automatically create a new one.

    For the third, you’d need to track down any Word add-ins and try disabling them to see if the problem goes away. If an add-in is causing corruption, this can be a very tedious process of trial and error, since you might have to delete the registry keys and/or rename Normal.dotm multiple times.

    Good luck!

  37. Many, many thanks for your straightforward and easily understandable explaination. I am so grateful for finally understanding the compatibility modes. You are a jewel!

  38. Arzu says:

    Thank you very much.
    fix it for me program you suggested worked for me.

  39. suez says:

    thank you!!!

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