How To Open A Stuck File


Q. Every now and then I get a message on my screen that says a document I’m trying to open is “in use by another user” or is “locked for editing by another user,” and my only option is to open it as a read-only document. The bottom line is I can’t work on the document even though I know no one else has it open. What’s up?

A. There are several possibilities, and to understand what’s going on, you need to know how Word 2000 and 2002 handle documents. When you open a document, Word creates a special temporary copy of the file, called an owner file (Word recognizes you as the owner). If you look in the folder where you stored your file, using Explorer, you’ll see the owner file listed with a tilde (~) and a dollar sign ($) appended to the front of the name. So, if the file name is Help.doc , the temp file will be ~$Help.do c. When you close your file, the temp file automatically is deleted. But when it fails to delete, for any number of technical reasons, it will trip an “in use” or “locked” message when you try to open it later.

When Word fails to shut down properly (because of a power surge, a power interruption or a programming snag), the temp file doesn’t get deleted. So when you try subsequently to open your file, Word, in a misguided effort to protect your file, either won’t let you open it or lets you only view it as a read-only file.

There are two other possibilities: Someone else on your network has the file open or you accidentally opened Word twice (by clicking on the icon more than once) and the second copy of Word is being barred from displaying the file.

So now that you know the possible culprits, what do you do to get the file open? First, be sure that no one else is using the file. Once you’ve verified that, shut down all instances of Word on your system. While you can try just closing them in the normal way, sometimes that doesn’t work because (and I know this sounds very strange) segments of the application get left behind in memory. So to be absolutely sure you’ve closed Word, activate the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del, producing this screen:

If Word closed correctly, you’ll see nothing that has the word Winword or Word in the list. In the above screenshot, you’ll see that I have this Tech Q&A file open in Word— c-TQA-april-03.doc .

If you see a task with Word in the title, highlight it and click on End Task . Then close Task Manager by pressing the Esc button.

As a final step, go into Explorer , open the folder that contains the document you tried to open, and if you see an owner file as described above, delete it.

That should do it.

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