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Mac vs. PC File Naming Conflicts

If you’re a Macintosh user, you have most likely experienced sending PC users a report, a presentation, a spreadsheet, or whatever, and heard them proclaim that the file could not be opened. This can cause frustration for all involved. There are essentially two reasons that this occurs.

The first is that Windows operating systems do not allow certain characters in file names, including the following: /\:*?”<>|

Some of these characters however are allowed in file names on a Macintosh. If a Macintosh user names a file using any of the above characters, the file will not be able to be opened, moved, copied, or deleted by a PC user. This is a common problem when Mac and PC users collaborate on documents and share files using e-mail or place files on a server. The error message the Windows user receives when attempting these functions is some variation of “file not found”.

The other instance when files will not open on a PC is when the three-letter file extension is not included in the file name. Every file type will have its own unique extension. Some of the more common software products used and their file extensions are:

  • Microsoft Word: .doc
  • Microsoft Excel: .xls
  • Microsoft PowerPoint: .ppt
  • Microsoft Project: .mpp
  • Simple Text: .txt
  • Adobe Acrobat: .pdf

When creating a file on the Macintosh, make sure the file has one of the three-letter extensions as indicated above AND include a a period (.) prior to the extension.

The following example illustrates a typical file naming (or file saving) problem between MACs and PCs.

A Microsoft Word file called Memo, Z-7/18/97.

This file does not have a .doc extension, so Windows users have to determine whether it is a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file type. If the PC user (recipient) double-clicks on the file, it does not launch the correct application. Also, the slashes (/) in the file name are unrecognized characters in the Windows environment, making it impossible to open, copy, move, or delete the file. An example of a correct file name would be: Memo Z-7-19-97.doc .

To open the file on a PC, it must be renamed with PC-recognizable characters and contain the appropriate three-letter file extension.

PC Users: In the event that you receive a file that is unrecognizable to the PC, you do have the capability to rename the file using the standard file naming conventions as documented below.

To rename a document on a PC:

  1. Contact the sender if you are unsure of what application was used to create the file (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint).
  2. Locate the document you need to rename. If it came in as an attachment, it will be located in whatever folder it was saved to on the hard drive.
  3. Select the document and choose File/Rename from the menu.
  4. Rename the document. If necessary, delete the special characters that cannot be used on a PC and include the file extension, i.e., .doc, .xls, etc. If this is done correctly, the document icon will change to the application icon associated with the document.

Macintosh users: Please be considerate of PC users when e-mailing attachments. Remember to 1) save the file with the appropriate file extension as a safety measure, and 2) to mention the file type in the e-mail itself, e.g.,: “Please find enclosed the Word file Memo Z-7-19.” This will help the PC user associate the file with the proper application in the event that a file extension is not included.

If you need additional assistance on proper file naming/renaming conventions, please contact the ITS Helpdesk 580.774.7070.

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