December 01, 2003

What To Do When You Get an Odd Electronic File

It's only a matter of time before you receive a data file you can't open. Perhaps it was created by a program you don't have, such as a CAD or a graphic design program. Regardless, the first thing you'll need to do is identify the type of file.

I've collected a list of sites that identify and describe computer file types by their extension or suffix, e.g. .BMP for Windows Bitmap file. This is particularly handy when dealing with files obtained from clients, opposing and co-counsel, or various parties via electronic discovery, especially when you don't have copies of the original programs that created them:

Then, of course, you'll need to open the file in a program that can understand it. Therefore, having a versatile file viewer is a handy tool for viewing and/or printing those files. While there are a lot of them, I particularly like these two:

  • Quick View Plus handles more than 225 Windows, UNIX, Macintosh, DOS and Internet file formats. It's not freeware, but it's well worth the price since you don't have to go out and purchase all the programs it supports.
  • IrfanView supports many graphic, video, and audio file formats, although some plugins may be needed. From their web site: "IrfanView is a very fast, small, compact and innovative FREEWARE (for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP." You'll need to purchase a license for business use.

File viewers, while not a complete substitute for the full original program, also enable you to open a suspect file safely. They do so by opening the data files without executing any embedded malware such as viruses or trojans.

Lastly, some software developers provide free downloadable viewers so that people without their software can still view those formats. Adobe has long made their Acrobat Reader free via download. Even Microsoft offers some freebies. For example, Microsoft provides free viewers for Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, and Visio. Other vendors' viewers are easily found via some savvy Google searches.

So the next time you receive that oddball file, there is much more help at your fingertips than you may have realized.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard