User stores files where Windows refuses to go

Quick tip from the help desk: Name your files wisely ... if you ever want to see them again

 User stores files where Windows refuses to go
Credit: Thinkstock

What's in a file name? If you're not careful, a badly chosen moniker could jam up a perfectly functioning work flow. You'd think such a tiny detail wouldn't be a big problem, but in my 25 years in IT, I've seen my fair share of program constraints that tripped up otherwise competent, conscientious employees.

When I started with DOS we were limited to file names of 8.3 -- eight characters in front of the period and a three-digit extension. Space was very expensive, so we learned to live with the limitation and to make the file names as easy to understand as possible.

As the different iterations of Windows evolved, the length of file names expanded and younger users quickly embraced the ability to apply more meaningful -- and longer -- naming conventions. They become more comfortable with technology, and at the time, we didn't think of possible complications from this change.

Why won't the files open?

Last month, a user called us with a problem. He had scanned a few documents to PDF format and saved them to his file structure on the server. His complaint was that when he opened Windows Explorer from his PC and burrowed into them, he could see the files listed but not open them. He would get an “Access denied” error. This seemed strange to me, as they were in his home directory.

I jumped on the server and soon located the files but received the same error when I tried to open them. I wasn’t surprised, as there was no PDF viewer installed on that server, but I should have seen an error stating that the file format wasn’t recognized.

I checked the security settings -- he and the network admins all had access, so that wasn’t the problem. I copied the suspect files to my directory, and using my PC I was able to open all four files. Hmmm, time for extra research.

I went back on the server and viewed the individual’s file structure. It was beautiful and had very descriptive file names. The suspect files were nested nine layers deep in his directory. I moved the files up three layers and they could be opened, but back down, it was again “no access.”

There it was! He had exceeded the limit for naming in File Explorer.

File frenzy tamed

When I explained the problem to him -- namely, his file structure with all the long names and multiple layers -- he went back and shortened directory names and removed spaces. Voilà! The files could then be accessed.

In this job there is always a new way to look at a problem, even for an old techie. No matter what, the “aha” moment when the problem gets solved is still satisfying -- even if it’s simply a reminder of the basics.