It’s 8:00 A.M. and the first help-desk call of the day has arrived. A distraught user is reporting that he can’t open the Microsoft Word file he has been working on for the last two weeks. It’s a major report due at 10:00 A.M. There is no backup. Now what?

It’s not the most pleasant way to start the day. But if your users work with Microsoft Office files regularly, you’ve undoubtedly run into a case of file corruption. Fortunately, there are a few good tricks and commercial software tools specifically designed to recover and repair Microsoft Office files. These methods make up a viable recovery program that should have your users back in business before lunch.

Free things to try
If you don’t already own a piece of commercial software for recovering Office files, you may find one of these five tricks helpful.

1. Any file type
Try opening the file by holding down the [Shift] key and double-clicking the file in Explorer. This will keep automatic VB code from running, as well as other automatic commands that may be the cause of the error.

2. Microsoft Word
If you can open the file, but the contents are garbled, try using the Show/Hide button to reveal formatting. Then, starting from the beginning of the document, highlight all of the text except any extra paragraph markers at the bottom of the document. Copy the text and paste it into a new document. If that doesn’t work, you may be able to copy and paste other segments to rebuild the file.

3. Excel
If a small Excel file with only one sheet is the problem, try opening the file from Word. In the Open dialog box, select All Files in file types and try opening it directly or try using the Recover Text From Any File option also found under file types.

4. PowerPoint
PowerPoint files tend to corrupt quite easily and are often not readily recovered without commercial software. Every once in a while you can use the Insert-Slides option in a new blank PowerPoint file and import the slides from the corrupt presentation.

5. Access
Your best bet for recovering a corrupt Access database is to perform a repair and compact on the database. Failing that, you can attempt to import the objects into a new Access file.

OfficeRecovery from Concept Data is a commercial utility that offers data recovery programs for Microsoft Office applications. After installation, an additional menu option, Recover, is available from the File menu of the applications for which it is purchased. The latest version, 2.0, includes support for Office XP.

The product comes in these three suite combinations:

  • Professional retails for $599 and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access Recovery.
  • Standard retails for $399 and includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint recovery.
  • Basic retails for $269 and includes Word and Excel recovery.

Each application may also be purchased separately. Figure A shows the demo version of WordRecovery. Besides their OfficeRecovery products, a recovery program for Exchange files and MSSQL is also available. Outlook recovery for .pst files is currently in beta testing.

Figure A

Does it work?
We’ve been using the OfficeRecovery standard suite for the last year with excellent results. This is particularly true for PowerPoint files, which seem to only be recoverable through a tool such as this. On a regular basis, we also successfully use the tool to perform recovery on Microsoft Word files.

A demo of the software is available on Concept Data’s Web site, which allows you to try out the product on the corrupted file of your choice. However, while it does provide a good test to see if the software will work for you, the demo version will insert the word “demo” in place of some recovered text.

Your return on investment is excellent when you consider the time it would take to rebuild files that have taken days, weeks, or even months to create. You can also download demo versions of WordRecovery, Excel Recovery, and PowerPointRecovery from CNET’s

Ontrack EasyRecovery
A newer addition to the market for Office recovery tools is Ontrack’s EasyRecovery FileRepair. Currently, this product, which recovers Microsoft Word files, is available for a retail price of $129. Much like OfficeRecovery, it can recover files that are damaged due to viruses, application crashes, hard disk or other media failures, and random data corruption in critical areas.

Ontrack reports that it will soon have similar applications for Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Unlike OfficeRecovery, which is available as a menu choice from within the application, Ontrack launches as a separate application. After browsing to the file to be recovered, a log is displayed and the file is saved under a new name, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You can view an animated demonstration of the product on Ontrack’s Web site. A downloadable demo of EasyRecovery Personal is available from

Worth the money
If your help desk frequently works with Microsoft Office file corruption issues, recovery software is well worth the money. When you consider the amount of time it takes to re-create files from scratch, a commercial recovery tool will easily recover its worth. If you have experience with either of these tools or similar utilities, post a comment or write to Janice Ward and share your opinions.