Microsoft Office 2007 is just another installment of the arrogant nonsense coming from Microsoft. It probably has lots of cool stuff in it, but almost nobody needs any of it. The first time I ran Word 2007, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to open up a document. But ranting on the user interface change issues in Office 2007 is for another discussion.
Office 2007 is spreading, much like a virus or other malignant scourge. Microsoft has succeeded in making the .doc and .xls formats de-facto standards for exchanging documents. And now they are messing with the standard and causing unnecessary pain for many of their unsuspecting customers. There is a new document format that is included with this next generation "productivity" tool.
I am commonly asked about problems with opening email attached word documents and excel spreadsheets. The problem is usually because the documents have a mysterious .docx file extension (instead of the expected .doc) and the spreadsheets have a .xlsx extension. (instead of the expected .xls). These documents and spreadsheets were created with Office 2007. Surprise, surprise. Older versions of Word and Excel can't open these files.
One possible option is to make sure that documents to be shared among new and old versions of the Office software are always "saved as" the old format. This is probably not a practical solution unless you make it permanent http://bonsteel.net/saveasdoc.
The good news is that Microsoft provides an Office add-in that allows reading such documents with older versions of Office. It does not look like it works with Office 97 products.
To read the new files with the old versions of office:
Download and install the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats and you will be able to read these documents.