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Opening Old Files

Posted by TetonTrekker on December 15, 2017 in Excel, Questions & Answers, Tips for the common user, Word |

Q: How can I open this [file type] file? When I click it it will not open.

I often get calls from friends and colleagues to help them open a file that was either sent to them via email or something that is in their archives that they need to revisit. The answer is short and simple, but the first question you should ask yourself is “Should I open this file?”.

Back in 1999, a nurse manager walked in my office and told me she sent me a file that Dr [X] sent her and she couldn’t open it. She wanted my help. Since she was a manager and very intelligent, and the Dr was also a very intelligent person and sent her emails on a daily basis, I didn’t even give it a second thought. I double clicked the attached file to see the error and BAM! Fireworks! I infected the network. The worse part is that I knew better, I had read about those pesky little email viruses. I had to make that embarrassing call to the IT department. Lesson learned… Trust no one!


First determine if the file is safe to open.

  • What is the File Type?
    • Is it is a typed document or spreadsheet? – Keep reading.
    • Is it is a PDF? – Keep reading.
    • Is it something else?STOP! It’s not worth the risk.
  • Is it a file you created?
    • No:
      • Did it come from a person you know?
        • No – STOP! It’s not worth the risk.
        • Yes:
          • Were you expecting the file?
            • Yes – Keep reading.
            • No – Call, text, or use a different email to ask the person  if they sent the mail. Did they intend to send it to you?
              • No – STOP! It’s not worth the risk.
              • Yes – Keep reading.
    • Yes – Keep reading.
  • Scan it for viruses.
    • Is it clean?
      • No – STOP! It’s not worth the risk.
      • Yes – Keep reading.

What if I have determined it is not safe but I already tried to open it?

  • Run a virus scan on your computer.
  • Search the internet for the name of the file to see if it is known and what it does, follow any instructions.
  • If it sent its self to everyone in your address book you will need to notify them you sent them a virus. (Computer viruses are like the STD of the digital world.)

I still want to open my file …

If you have a translation program use it, if not:

  • Open the appropriate program on your computer FIRST then use the open file menu to navigate to and open the file. Depending on your settings you may have to change the drop down box to “all files” to find it.
    • If it is a word processing program such as Word Perfect, MS Works, or MS Word, open your word processing.
    • If it is a spreadsheet such as Lotus, Excel, or Numbers, use your spreadsheet program.
    • If the file is a PDF this will not work, you need a PDF editor.

That didn’t work, what next?

  • If someone sent you the file you can contact them and ask them to “Save As” a format your computer can read.
  • If you have a hard copy you can scan it for editing. I found a easy iPhone app that does it well. There are several good apps at different prices.

I hope you found this helpful. Please post a memo if you have a file not covered here.

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