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Posted on Apr 16, 2013 in Windows Basics, Working with Files | 0 comments

Find all you need to know about the most common types of files on the internet

Quick links:-
Common types of files in Windows
Pitfall – Hidden file extensions!
What are Zip files? / 7Zip tutorials
What are pdf/Acrobat files?

Now that you are a little more confident using your PC, thanks to our Windows XP basics free Windows tutorials, free Windows Vista tutorials or our Windows 7 tutorials, it is time to move on to some more advanced topics. Don’t worry though, nothing we cover in these free Windows tutorials is any more complicated than the videos you have already covered. Once you are familiar with the material presented here you will be able to use your PC and the internet much more effectively.

Common types of files in Windows and on the internet

When you are working and communicating with friends, family and colleagues you are likely to come across several types of file. Windows can handle many types of files without any additional software and almost all others with additional software. The table below shows you some of the most common types of file and what to do with them:-

File Type Extension What is it? Need extra s/w to view?
Acrobat .pdf Text and/or picture document Yes (no in Windows 8/10)
Bitmap .bmp Picture No
Document .doc Microsoft Word Document No*
Excel sheet .xls Microsoft Excel Document Yes
Executable .exe A computer program No
GIF .gif Picture, often a graphic on a website No
JPEG .jpg Picture, usually a photograph No
PNG .png Picture, often a graphic on a website No
Powerpoint .pps A Powerpoint presentation Yes
Zip archive .zip A collection of compressed files No

* Microsoft word documents can usually be opened with Wordpad, the free word processor built into Windows. However certain Microsoft word documents which use advanced features may not open correctly with Wordpad.

As you can see, windows is well equipped to deal with most common types of files. These tutorials will focus on some of the more unusual types of files and how to work with them.

Pitfall – Hidden file extensions!

One of my least favourite features of Windows is its unhelpful “Hide file extensions” option. A file extension is the three or more letters following the dot on the end of a file name. For example, the file extension of “” is “.zip”. We covered the “hide file extension of known file types” option in other free Windows tutorials, specifically Windows XP basics tutorial 6 and Windows 7 basics tutorial 9. Windows Vista users may wish to watch this video too, since understanding the concept of “hidden file extensions” is important. Basically, Windows has the option of hiding the file extension part of a file name. For example, a zip file on your computer may be named “”. If you have the “Hide file extensions” option turned on, Windows explorer will show this file as “myfiles”. We are not sure exactly why the designers of Windows made it this way, our best guess was it was an attempt to make things appear less complicated for beginners. with file extension shown

Above – Windows shows us a file called, below – exactly the same file and folder but with the “hide file extensions of known file types” option turned on. These files are 100% identical, don’t get caught out if you use this option! with file extension hidden

Look at the picture below, with the “hide file extensions” option turned on, it looks as though we can have files with the same name in the same folder! Look closely though and you can see the icons are different. The actual names of these files are, myfiles.txt and myfiles.bmp, but again Windows is hiding those file extensions from us!

Two files with the same name but different extensions

Now you understand this somewhat confusing state of affairs, you have mastered one of the most common pitfalls when working with files in Windows. This one still catches us out from time to time, so beware!

What are Zip files?

When transporting a large number of files across the internet, by e-mail the web or any other means, it is not usually convenient to send them one by one. More experienced computer users usually prefer to use Zip files. A Zip file acts like a container, or perhaps a suitcase, letting you put lots of smaller files inside it. Furthermore, Zip files use a special software technique called “compression” which shrinks the size of the files you store to minimise the time it takes to transmit them across the internet. Unlike your holiday suitcase though, squashing more things inside a zip file won’t ever cause damage to them.

Windows XP and Windows Vista can both open Zip files automatically, just double click on a Zip file to inspect its contents. You may have already been working with Zip files without even knowing it, since clicking on a Zip file simply displays its contents in a Windows Explorer window.

Wouldn’t it be great to create our own Zip files, to send files and photographs to our friends across the internet? Windows Explorer comes with some basic support for creating Zip files, if you want to make your own Zip files in Explorer, take a look at this tutorial.

Want a more powerful Zip utility with better compression and support for other archive formats? Then you need the superb free 7-Zip package. Check out our free Windows tutorials on 7-Zip:-

7-Zip tutorial 1 – Installing 7-Zip
7-Zip tutorial 2 – Extracting files
7-Zip tutorial 3 – Making your own zip files

PDF Logo

PDF files are used for a wide range of digitally stored documentation.

PC acrobatics?! – What are pdf/Acrobat files?


Nothing to do with acrobatics, Adobe pdf files (previously known as Acrobat files) are very common on the internet and in business. In the days before fast, powerful multimedia computers were commonplace, chances are you would buy a computer program from a store and receive a printed instruction manual. Nowadays more and more companies are saving money by including manuals in pdf format. Pdf files are also used for forms and receipts and sometimes also letters and business correspondence. Unlike web pages or word processor documents, pdf files are designed to look identical on any machine that can open them and in the case of instruction manuals or other documents, identical to the paper hard-copy they are based on.

While Windows cannot open pdf files without extra software, the required software is free to download and easy to install. Visit this page to download Adobe Reader and then install it to start viewing pdf documents on your PC.

Keep checking back to as we add more free Windows tutorials to help you use files and communicate more effectively.

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