26 October 2012

What's dat?

A friend called last night in a bit of a panic. She had to prepare something for a presentation the next day and include a verbatim script that someone had sent her. Unfortunately, for some reason best known to the sender, the text arrived in a file called something like whattosay.dat which Windows appeared reluctant to open.

Not being close to a computer at the time I had to guess this one but it worked (as much to my delight as hers).

  • Download the attachment.
  • Right click on it in a file browser / folder window*
  • Select Properties
  • Chose Open with > Notepad
So far so good. A load of strange characters appeared in a long line but the text she wanted appeared to be in there somewhere.

  • In Notepad use Format > Word wrap

That should make it a little easier to read.

Then she wanted to work with the text in Word so Ctr+A, Ctr+C copies everything. And Ctr+V in Word means she's back in a familiar environment and can continue happily.

OK, you all know about Ctr+A, Ctr+C, Ctr+V. I know but these are such universal shortcuts that work when menus or right clicks may not someone new here might appreciate the reminder.

Strangely, after more years than I want to admit in working with files that don't seem to do what you want on computers, I've never had to fiddle around with a .dat file. I've seen them all over the place but never needed to view any. When coming in as e-mail attachments it is invariably a malformed file from something going wrong with hotmail or similar at the sender's end. If you don't know the sender, are not expecting anything, then it may be best to ignore it as it may be something nasty. The general rule applies - don't open any attachments that you have any doubts about. If you know the person just ask them first. If you don't have a clue who it's from then ignore it. They'll remind you if it's important.

A dat file is simply a data file. It could be an image, a video too. If that's what you're expecting then Notepad won't work - it will just display a huge quantity of characters. Irfanview may succeed in making some sense of it. Failing that a search for dat file will reveal lots of suggestions.

*On my computer, Right Click (or maybe Shift + Right Click) gives the Open With option but that didn't seem to work for her. It is also worth mentioning that if Notepad isn't listed (or another programme you want to try isn't) you can navigate to the .exe file for what you want by (carefully) heading into the My Computer>C:>Windows folder where you'll find Notepad. For most others look in My Computer>C:>Program Files, open the folder for the particular programme you think you might need and the application file will usually have the product icon displayed. If there are several with the product icons or you're not sure just try one and see, cancelling any process if necessary. As long as you're careful not to move or delete anything in this folder, though. The precise route to Windows or Program Files varies on different versions too. If you know the.exe file name you can always us Search for it and take a note of the route but that's slow and fiddly.

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