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Finding Lost Computer Files

Did your computer swallow your document? Never fear—the answers are here.


Oops! Your heart sinks as your computer file disappears into the depths of cyberspace. But all is not lost. There are some ways you can find those missing files. Computer expert Jan Erickson of Vision Network Services in Rogers, Minn., shares his techniques for finding lost files.

Question: Lost files and documents are a common and frustrating problem. How do computer files get lost?

Erickson: The good news is that files don’t often disappear. They do get misplaced. How? Often the computer simply sends them to the wrong place. For instance, when you download something from AOL, your computer puts it in a download directory. Meanwhile your Word program is on the other side of town, trying to locate it in a “My Document” folder.

To make matters worse, every application has a “save as” feature that can create yet another file where your missing file can hide once again. So it becomes a comedy of errors.

Question: Where do those lost files and documents go?

Erickson: Downloaded files go wherever the browser “defaults” [is automatically set up to save them]. So your AOL browser might place your files in an area where you would never dream of looking. However you can decide what area to send the information you download to. Simply click on the “save in” drive and choose a location.

Question: Are there some quick, easy things I can do when I’ve lost a file?

Erickson: First check to make sure that the extension on your file has not been changed. An extension is the group of letters that comes after your file. For example, a document file has the “.doc” after it. An Excel file has “.xls” after it.

Now let’s say we’re looking for the extension “.doc” and the computer thinks it is in your document file. But, oops, somehow the extension has been changed to “.xls.” That means it is not in your document file. It is in your excel file. How can the computer find it? Simple. Just have the computer look in “all files.”

Another easy way is go to “Start,” then “Find” and type in the file name. However, make sure the “Look in” box (at the bottom of the page) is “C:drive” and that “include subfolders” is checked.

Question: What if I don’t know the specific name of the file?

Erickson: You have made your job a little harder, but not impossible. There is a tool in Word that will search through the contents of files for specific words. You can activate this search by going to “File,” then click on “Open,” then click on “Tools,” then click on “Find.” When you are in the “Find” field, change the property box to “contents” and perform the search.

Question: When a file or document can’t be found by these methods, a business may call someone like you to make a house call to find the file or document. What can you do to help?

Erickson: I have powerful search tools. If you only have a “magnifying glass” to find the file, I can bring in the equivalent of an electron microscope that can find a needle in a haystack. Also I have extensive experience with viruses and corrupt hard drives, and I know how they can make a file look like it has “disappeared.”

Question: How long does it take you to find the missing file?

Erickson: Depending on the complexity of the layout of the drive and the number of folders, it could take from 15 minutes to an hour.

Question: What’s the most interesting or unusual file or document you’ve ever retrieved?

Erickson: I usually don’t peek at people’s documents since they are obviously sensitive to people or their company. But I do have a funny story regarding documents in general. I was working with a customer to upgrade an older machine to a newer one. I mentioned to the client that I had moved the contents of the “My Documents” directory to the new machine and asked if there were any other locations that held documents or files. She informed me that she “hid” her important ones in the “Recycle Bin,” because no one would think of looking there.

For more information, contact Jan Erickson of Vision Network Services at

© FeatureSource


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