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:
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.