Jul 27, 2013

The great guessing game: file extensions in Windows!

How many file types are there in the screen shot above?

Use your discerning eye and write your answer in the comments of this post. Anyone who figures out the correct answer and writes it as a comment before I update this post will be offered a special "reward" for clever deduction.

Update #1: A link to the solution has been posted in the comments. I will follow this up soon with a bit more explanation and a short video. In my comment with the solution, you'll also see why I hate Google's Blogger and don't recommend it to anyone, though I use it myself thanks to 5 years of habit. I'm the owner of the blog, and I can't even edit my own typos in comments, just in posts. Obviously, the Gods of Microsoft do not "thing". One would presume that they "think", however often the evidence of their actions may be against this.

Update #2: Hot summer nights are better suited to screencasting than sleep, so here is the video, a little sooner and longer than planned. But the part that actually matters (1:20 - 1:55) is in fact well under a minute.

This problem of hidden file extensions has come up so often in so many ways over the years. In the translation world of CAT tools I deal with, it comes up too often in discussions of how one can change the extension of an MQXLIFF file, for example, to XLIFF or XLF so that it can be imported by SDL Trados Studio or other tools.
I also have to deal with this problem when I send someone an RTF and a DOC file; these two file types are indistinguishable by icon, and without visible file extensions, it is fairly hopeless to discuss these files with anyone.


  1. Steven SegaertJuly 27, 2013 4:24 PM

    I see 11 files - presuming 11 and 7 are both html and 5 is a docx.

  2. 13 if the underlying operating system would be from a different vendor ;-)

  3. I also go for 10.


  4. I'd say 10 too.


  5. Ten (from Alison)

  6. Very astute, all of you! Looking at the picture I posted with fresh eyes, I would have said 13 myself, or at least 13. If you look very, very carefully at those icons, you can in fact see 13 distinct ones. But some of the differences, like those "W-squares" for various files that are somehow associated with Microsoft Word, are not necessarily noticeable in a quick inspection. People who work with various kinds of files often need more information than just a file icon, and that is part of the point I plan to make here. But I won't make the point at three o'clock in the morning. It's been an unexpectedly long day, so the video I planned to do as a follow-up to this will have to wait a little longer, but I will post the link to the answer(s) at the end of this comment.

    This contest was inspired by a recurring problem. Maybe some of you have guessed it already, probably a number of you have experienced it at some point. It's a very basic problem, and I am actually a bit surprised that in the year 2013 I am still encountering this problem about once a month on average, perhaps once every two months. And I think the reason that this still occurs is that the "gurus" and developers are often far too arrogant and condescending with the information they feel should be revealed to ordinary mortals, and they really don't think that dealing with little bits of stupid design and inconvenience are such a big deal. In fact, they are rather proud of their arcane knowledge, accumulated with great difficulty over many years. After some 41 years of fiddling about with IT, I have my own small collection of arcana, which I would happily trade for a good comic book collection for all I value it. These little details matter. They matter a lot. Whether the Gods of Microsoft thing so, and even when developers for whom I have the deepest respect think otherwise. They are little pebbles in our shoes, making an ordinary gait difficult. Or the wind-borne sand, blasting and wearing down the hardest rock grain by grain.

    Maybe we don't need more fancy features in the tools our work depends on. Maybe we need simplicity. Stability. And perhaps some easy, unobtrusive access to simple explanations without judgment when we need them. So for now, the contest is officially ended, and here is a link to the solution. One could probably say there are two correct answers to the challenge, depending on how one looks at it.

    And tomorrow - or the day after - I will add another "bleeding obvious" simple video where I illustrate this still too-frequent problem and a solution for it. And I'll challenge myself to keep it shorter than a minute, though I'm not sure if I can actually do that....

    I will discuss the reward with the winner tomorrow if time permits :-) Thank you very much, everyone!

  7. Standing up like a man in the face of those will scorn and scold me for using XP: ;-)

    Note the slightly different procedure there:

    For Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003

    Start Windows Explorer (you can do this by opening up any folder).
    Click Tools, and then click Folder Options.
    Scroll down and then click Folder and search options.
    Click the View tab.
    Scroll down until you notice Hide extensions for known file types, un-check this line by clicking the check box.

    Note To hide file name extensions, check this line.
    Click OK

  8. Thank you, Chris! Nothing wrong with XP, and in fact I fully intend to do a short video for XP when I have the time to put a screen recorder on one of my old machines. When I first had to do this under Windows 7, I was utterly baffled trying to find the settings exactly where you described.

    I'm almost afraid to ask what the situation is for Windows 8.

  9. "I'm almost afraid to ask what the situation is for Windows 8."
    The problems Microshaft have had with Version 8 remind me of a fun Xmas party a few years back including a friend who has an IQ rated at genius level. Believe me... We decided to have some fun with a new board game that nobody had played before.
    Reading the "manual" and going through everything even reduced this guy to confusion.
    "I think you have to do this, then maybe that and you have options etc...
    But there is no conceivable way you can start any game like this without knowing what you are supposed to do to start it..."
    Where is the START button? ;-)


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