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Geeky stuff—thousands of file types

by Chuck Solly | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | October 11th, 2017

This is some of the basic computer technical information you have to know to be comfortable around Windows computers.

Long ago and far away, someone thought up some very basic definitions of computer files -- you know, the things you create on a computer to hold your writings or pictures or whatever.

Then someone decided that he or she needed a different type of file with a different name for his or her brand new software.

That is where naming of computer files really went off the rails. Everyone figured that they had to have a different type of file and then it became very confusing. When it comes to word processors, it’s a bit baffling that so many programs can’t read each other’s simple text.

They are just letters of the alphabet after all, right? Any five year old can read the alphabet, so why can’t my computer?

The answer is money. Soon after the advent of personal computers, some genius realized that there is money to be made here. That genius wrote his own word processor, used his own special filenames and made all other word processors up to that point obsolete. Then you had to buy his word processor.

Let’s examine filenames a little bit. A filename is composed of two parts, the name followed by a period and then a three letter or number extension. The generic example is: XXXXXXXX.XXX. The characters to the left of the period in a filename are the name of the file. The characters to the right of the period generally tell us what type of file it is.

Back in the dark days of computing, the longest a filename could be in Windows was eight characters. Now the length limit is 256 characters, with some exceptions. There are thousands of different file types.

Some Common file types are:

.txt -- this is the common text file

.rtf -- this file type is call a Rich Text File because it allows some formatting.

.doc -- This file type is generally used by Microsoft word processing software.

. pdf -- Portable Document Format. A file type that almost every computer user can read. Used to transfer files from user to user. Most operating systems have programs that can read .pdf files.

.mp3 -- video files

.jpg -- picture or graphic files

There are rules about how to handle files, depending upon the use of the file, too numerous to mention here.

The purpose of this diatribe is to let you know about a few of the common file types. There are lists of file types online identifying what they are and what software programs use them.

It is important to know that in the case of many file types, if you click or double click on the file in Windows, the application that uses the file will launch and load the file.

Another tip - You will accumulate files quickly on your computer. After 30 years of computer use I have over 356,000 files on my machine. This requires that you adopt a good method of organizing your hard drives.

We’ll get into more geeky stuff on file organizing next time.

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