Disappearing files (or why Word users should understand FAT32 and NTFS)

I use Microsoft Word. You probably use Word. And we both know it can be a pain. As a busy Cheltenham-based copywriter, I recently had a weird experience with disappearing MS Word 2003 files (I have no idea whether the same thing can happen with later versions). In fact, it was more than weird, it was frustrating as anything and it coat me quite a few hours before I (fingers crossed) got to the bottom of it. What was even more frustrating was that online forums, though alluding to the symptoms, didn’t give me a fast answer. Eventually, my own trial and error and a forum post that I hadn’t picked up on before, gave me the answer. I’ve put things right now and all seems to be well with Word.

So just in case you run into any of these symptoms or weird error messages, here’s what happened. It all started with the appearance of worrying error messages (including those listed below) when I was working on a suite of SEO category pages for a client. All was going swimmingly until MS Word suddenly closed – taking my website copywriting with it. Worse of all, in Windows Explorer, the files had changed to 1 kb files. When opened, these contained a few lines of gibberish. Nothing more.

Error messages sent to torment a Cheltenham copywriter

 

 

 

Ominous error messages

Here are extracts from some of the MS Word error messages I encountered:

‘Word cannot complete the save due to a file permission error…’

‘There is an unrecoverable disk error on file… the disk you are working on has a media problem that prevents Word from saving it…’

‘Word failed reading from the file (…). Please restore the network connection or replace the floppy disk and retry.’

‘Word has lost data due to a bad network connection or missing floppy. Documents relying on this data are going to be saved and then closed.’

‘Word experienced an error trying to open the file. Try these suggestions. Check the file permissions for the document or drive. Make sure there is sufficient free memory and disk space. Open the file with the Text Recovery converter.’

‘Do you want to retry the save.’

‘Word has insufficient memory. Do you want to save “…” as Rescued document…’

Not what a busy copywriter wants to see

None of these is what a busy copywriter (or any other MS Word user) wants to see – especially when they accompany the complete loss of the document and your last couple of hours’ work. And just for the record, there was plenty of free space on the disks, I wasn’t using a floppy disk, and the hard drives had all been tested and were in good condition.

As Toyah Willcox once sang, it was a mystery.

More hair tearing and brow furrowing followed, along with re-installation of MS Word, virus and malware checking with every application on my system and half-a-dozen online scanners too. And all the time, it was one of the busiest periods of the year so far… The last thing I needed was lost content, lost documents and lost time. Worst of all, when I sought fresh perspectives, the ominous spectre of a complete Windows re-install kept coming up.

Out of desperation  I started working with Apache Open Office and that pretty much solved the problem – except that I couldn’t use the MS Word spelling, grammar and readability checks or run PerfectIT. So it wasn’t ideal and certainly wasn’t a sustainable long-term fix.

FAT32 formatting and Truecrypt virtual volumes

The clue to the eventual solution came from the references to disks and media. Then IT expert Tim Isles mentioned the problems that FAT32 formatting on removable disks can cause.  And that got me thinking, because the problems always seemed to occur when I was working off virtual disks created using TrueCrypt volumes.

A quick check of the formats revealed that I’d created the volumes using FAT32 instead of NTFS. And then I found an obscure reference to this online. In one forum, symptoms akin to those I’d seen had been reported to anti-virus company F-Secure. And they had mentioned the problems with FAT32 formatting. That was when I created new volumes in TrueCrypt, made sure they were formatted to NTFS and started using Word 2003 again. And everything has been working fine for several weeks.

Result!

By the way, an interesting coda to the story came when I worked on a MS Word 2003 file that was on a removable SD card. Exactly the same symptoms occurred and of course, when I checked the SD card I found that it was formatted as FAT32.

If you’re baffled by similar symptoms and error messages, this could be the answer you’re looking for. If it is, I’m pleased to have helped.

 

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

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