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Opening Display Write Files

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms, File & Disk Management, MS Office Help, MS Word

Charles from Olivet, MI writes:

A number of years ago, we put my mother’s diary on floppy discs using IBM Display Write. Is there any way to convert these floppies to a Microsoft program that will read them?

Hi, Charles.  That’s a great question that prompted me to go out and do some research, because the Display Writer, IBM’s old word processing machine, has been out of my mind since the last time that I used one in the eighties.

Here’s what my research has told me: The Display Writer saved files in one of several formats; .rtf, .doc, .fft, .rft or .dca.  The good news is that if the files are saved in .rtf or .doc format, then Notepad, Wordpad, Word and Open Office Writer should be able to open them.  They won’t maintain the formatting, though, and may have some junk (that’s a technical term) that you may have to delete, but you won’t have to recreate the entire document.

If they are in one of the other file formats, then there are a couple of things that you can try.  The easiest test to see if you’ll be able to open them without converting them would be to try to open them in Notepad.  Notepad is your best bet because it basically reads the straight ASCII text without any formatting.  In order to try this, open your notepad and click “file” then “open” like you would any document.  Then you have to play around a little.  First, change the file type in the lower right hand corner from .txt to “all files.”

Next, I’m going to suggest that you change the encoding.  But before you do that, try whatever the default on yours is (mine is Ansi, but I don’t know if that’s universal).

If your default doesn’t work, then try opening it with the other encoding types and see what happens.  If this works, you will have a LOT of junk to clear out, and you’ll still have to reformat it.

If either of these methods work, save it as a text document and open it in Word or Open Office Writer to do your formatting.

There is one more trick that you can try if neither of these work, and that is to use the Microsoft file converter.  Instructions for that can be found here:

Hopefully this helps.

~Randal Schaffer

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8 Responses to “Opening Display Write Files”

  1. caver8 says:

    How are you reading the disk? I didn’t see the way the disk was being ‘downloaded’ to the computer in the first place. Yes this person used the old machine to create it in the first place but they didn’t say they kept the system, just the disk itself. Are there a few assumptions being made here? Wash it in real hot water and stick the shrunken disk in the CD drive? Maybe it shrinks it to a 3.5″ floppy?

  2. randal says:

    Hi, Caver.

    If you take a close look at the question, Charles stated that he had Display Write files “on floppy” and was looking for a way to convert them from the “floppies” to his hard drive. Yes, from that, I am guessing that his files are on floppy disc and not (apparently the only technology you’ve seen for Display Writers) Bernoulli discs, which were about ten inches on a side and about a half an inch thick if I remember correctly. Personally, I’ve seen Display Writers that use both of those formats, as well as tape drive. Man, I am really starting to sound like an old guy here – next thing I’ll probably be talking about vacuum tubes.

    Thanks for the comment.


  3. Jack says:

    There are several things being confused here. I worked for IBM and the Office Products division sold a device called “Display Writer”, intended for the typewriter salesmen to have a follow on product to the typewriter to sell. It was a combination of hardware and software and probably PC based and may have used the Bernoulli discs referenced in a previous comment. I don’t recall much about this device.

    However, the question was about IBM Displaywrite, which was a software word processing package that ran on a PC, and from the picture, it looks like 5 and 1/4 inch floppies were used to store the data.

    So, whether or not the original PC exists, the hard part will be to get the data off the floppies and on some current storage medium. There were conversion devices made to convert from the 5 1/4 floppies to 3 1/2 floppies. Might find something like that on ebay, but don’t know what kind of port it plugs to in a PC. Once the data is accessible on a modern PC, your answer applies.

  4. randal says:

    Hi, Jack.

    It is possible that my memory is a little fuzzy on these machines. As I say, it was about thirty years ago that I worked on them. What I DO remember is that they were not something that you used on a PC, they were dedicated word processing machines. I think that they were actually the second dedicated word processors introduced after the Wang, but again, I could be wrong.


  5. Jim says:

    Funny you should be doing this, I’ve just ressurected an old copy of DW4 and have it running in a DOS window in XP so I can recover som old tax docuaments. I don’t know if there is anyway that I can send you a copy of it, but the files were either saved as RTF,s or DW4 “DOC” The doc files are not text or ansi, but some IBM encoded form that compressed them for storage.

  6. Jim says:

    Just a followup, I found the DW4 program files at “VETUSWARE.COM, abandonware downloads” Lots of interesting programs there, I may have to drag out an old copy of MSDOS6 just to see how it runs on a newer PC (if it will load)

  7. DJG says:

    The convert program that came with wordperfect version 5.1 or so can turn the .txt displaywrite files (which are NOT plain text) into wordperfect files which can be opened in LibreOffice. The convert filters in newer versions of WP might also do it but I cannot say. WP can always be run in a virtual machine or dosbox.

  8. E G Hill says:

    Just came across this query, several years late.

    I have a number of Displaywrite files which I keep for historic reasons. I use Lotus Word Pro to open them – it still runs under Windows 10. I realise that this programme is also archaic but I wondered if you might find a copy still available for sale secondhand

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