Recover Lost Excel File

This is for a customer; I fix PCs for a living.

Windows XP unknown service pack (probably SP3 as very few PCs have an earlier version NOW in my experience) . Excel 2003.

This is not about a DELETED Excel file; please note that. Because the current situation is the file still exists in My Documents but when opened it is a blank Excel spreadsheet. If it were deleted it would NOT be there with the same name (Please correct me if I am wrong).

All below if from phone call; I am not onsite and need your reply BEFORE I go onsite.

Customer left PC on all night with two Excel files open. He saved them both just before he went to bed.

In morning he goes to PC and the icons or whatever in the lower toolbar ARE NOT THERE which is CLEARLY not right so something bad happened overnight (very short power failure because if it were long the PC would not still be up OR something).

Customer starts Excel or (he claims that it was STILL up for both files which I believe is impossible given the above so probably he restarted Excel (not clicking the file names but the program Excel)

In left column (Document Recovery Pane, not sure he says he has not seen it before) were two files, the ones left open. For each file was shown Original File and Recovered File. He clicked the Original File (and he probably should have clicked the Recovered file but that is "water over the dam" now) and both files looked correct. He saved them (not save as). He closed or did nothing with the Recovered files (not sure). He closes Excel. He reopens excel and it shows recent files and he clicks both and one is fine AND THE OTHER IS A BLANK WORKSHEET. He goes to My Documents and clicks the two files and gets the same result.

QUESTIONS: Please answer all you are able to . 4 Questions below.

(1) Is the default setting for Excel 2003 out of the box Auto Recover ON or OFF ?

(2) Does the fact he saw Recovered files in the left column means that Excel Auto Recover was turned on.

(3) Please provide a way to recover the ONE lost file (as it is now blank) OTHER THAN the below

(a) With all Search options open (Hidden, System files etc) search for all xls and all xar extension files in Documents and Settings\UserName. If that fails search the entire HD.

(b) Go to the Auto Recovery default folder (after turning on View Hidden and System files) Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Excel and look for the files

(c) Use a Deleted files tool that recovers deleted files (i.e assuming PC has not been used a lot since problem occured) and search for the exact file name without extension.
This is the kind of tool that will find all deleted files but the one I am using does a Quick Scan for a specific file name.

Note: (c) Has nothing to do with Excel features. I am using Pareto Disk Recovery free version which does Recover (unlike other similar products free versions which just show if it can find the file).

Note: I said above the file was not deleted but there is a YouTube video by someone that says the Pareto tool can also find missing Excel files in situations OTHER THAN explicitly deleted.

Please note I said to NOT post anything that is the same or very similar to (a), (b), or (c). Only some other approach.

(4) I have heard (from a non-MS source) that Excel Auto recovered files have extension xar (not xls) and  A RANDOM FILE NAME. Not OriginalName.xar.

Please confirm or deny that.

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Zack BarresseCEOCommented:

1) Yes.  AutoRecover is on by default, able to be turned off by the user.  This is NOT an AutoSave feature though (or AutoSaveMyA$$ as I like to tell people who think it is).  File recovery (via AutoRecover) will open in the task pane when Excel crashes, not when closed.

2) As mentioned above, yes.

3) AFAIK you can't.  From MS, Auto Recovered files are deleted when:
   When the file is manually saved.
    The file is saved with a new file name using Save As.
    You close the file.
    You quit Excel, whether you choose to save the file or not.
    You turn off AutoRecover for the current workbook.
    You turn off AutoRecover by clearing the Save AutoRecover info every check box.
If you can find the xar file, you might be able to recover the file.  Again, AFAIK once you save the file the temporary files are deleted.  

If it's a damaged workbook (possible) you might want to look at this MS KB entry.

4) Yes, files are temporarily saved as .xar file types. See:  Since the naming convention is not your actual file names, to test you may need to copy them all to another location, change the extensions to .xls or whatever extension they were, open and see if it was your file.  There is software out there to do this though, and I'm not familiar with what you are using, but it basically does this for you.


Zack Barresse

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mgross333Author Commented:

Thanks for your reply. However your reply implies FAILURE.

Regarding "From MS, Auto Recovered files are deleted when:
   When the file is manually saved.

As stated in my question, he (in what is PROBABLY the Document Recovery Pane) opened the Original file (not the Recovered file) and IT WAS OK and then he manually saved it. So MS deleted the Auto Recover copy to save space because THE ABOVE IMPLIES NO PROBLEM.

BUT there is a HUGE problem. Despite him seeing the correct file, after he saved it, all further access shows a BLANK SPREADSHEET. MS assumes that is impossible given what is above which is why they delete the AutoRecover copy.

HENCE PLEASE REPLY What is going on here, how can you explain why one of the two files is still OK and the other one (handled identically) is a Blank spreadsheet ? Because your answer implies failure unless your link for corrupt Excel files works and that is only speculation here.

Zack BarresseCEOCommented:
Mike, my personal opinion is that the user did something that saved over a previous version of the file and that data is lost forever.  Also it does not sound like an AutoRecover problem at all, because of your story.  My guess is this has absolutely jack to do with anything from MS, and everything to do with the user.  What they did, I have no idea.  Did they keep backups?  If not, I doubt there is any way to get their file back.  It would be a good time to remind them of the importance of backups.

Zack Barresse
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Zack, is it possible to use the program "Recuva" on the "Auto Recovered files" that have been deleted?

As long as the customer has not done too much other saving on the hard drive, those files may still be recoverable - which means you could get the old spreadsheet back.

This questions reminds me to back up all my important files more often!
Zack BarresseCEOCommented:
I'm not familiar with that particular program.  Some programs can though, yes, like Undelete.  Depending on the duration of time, disc usage and file fragmentation, it's possible.  I think the question for the OP would boil down to how valuable is this information.  Those programs can cost a pretty penny, but can be worth their weight if they pull through.
Recuva is freeware - and it is advised as a program to be used for recovering of files by Lifehacker.

There is a great article on it:

And Lifehacker has written about Recuva more often. Mostly because it is free and it works.
mgross333Author Commented:

Pareto Disk Recovery free version CLEARLY referred to in (c) of my 3 potential solutions does the same thing as the one you are suggesting.

Long story short: Missing file was in the Recycle bin with the phrase "(Version 1)" appended to the filename.

Points awarded to Zack for future potential use.

mgross333Author Commented:
Grade B as I did not actually test any of Zack's suggestion but assume they are accurate.
Zack BarresseCEOCommented:

As Wiesje CLEARLY helped give VALUABLE information to this thread, as not only you but others would benefit from too, I would appreciate it if you divided the points, or awarded them all to him.

Zack Barresse
If you could check where the files originally came from, ie. usb stick, newly created on harddisk, downloaded via email from outlook etc?
Might be worth checking the history of the file?
Also, if opening from Outlook check the temporary path which Outlook defaults to to see if there is anything?
Might be worth checking.
mgross333Author Commented:

I disagree with your decision ! Several reasons (1) thru (3) are below and a summary

(1) Did I not say in my original question (AND I QUOTE)

"Please note I said to NOT post anything that is the same or very similar to (a), (b), or (c). Only some other approach."

And again and I quote

"(c) Has nothing to do with Excel features. I am using Pareto Disk Recovery free version ..."

Recuva is another program SIMILAR TO PARETO (and I said that in my reply to Wiesje).

Regarding my right to say only post solutions that I have not listed, that is COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE. I post here to get help; help is not telling me something I already know.

(2) Furthermore I very well could have closed this with NO POINTS assigned. The actual solution was the file was in the Recycle bin. Did Zack or Wiesje post that idea ? NO.

Hence I could have asked for Moderator help to close the Question with no points assigned. I decided to assign posts to Zack as his post told me things I did not know and were directly Excel related but I could have legitimately assigned no points as no one here contributed to the actual solution.

Now someone may say that I said in my question this is not about deleted items (i.e Recycle bin) and that is why no one said to look in the Recycle bin. I said that because the missing file was STILL THERE in the My Documents folder but was blank. If it were deleted it would not still be there, right ?? Furthermore the file in the recycle bin was named (again as I stated in my "solution" post) "filename (Version 1).xls. ie not filename.xls but had "(Version 1)" appended to the filename.

(3) Zack, Regarding "As Wiesje CLEARLY helped give VALUABLE information to this thread, as not only you but others would benefit from too,"

That is exactly like saying that I post a question about Excel and some one posts a reply about Exchange Server and then awarding points because the Exchange server post is something "....others would benefit from too,"

SUMMARY: Points are awarded for answering the EE question with a solution that works. Not for posting ANYTHING that other EE users would find of value, but for answering the question AS STATED by the question poster. As I explained above at length Wiesje did not do that. At least Zack played by the rules (only things I do not already know) in his replies.

WhackAMod, I would appreciate a reply to this post as to what your thinking was here; I strongly suspect

(A) you did not notice the part of my question where I said to only post things different than (a), (b), or (c). In fact I said that TWICE in my original question if you review all of it.
(B) Your were influenced by Zacks request to split the points,

I consider (B) to be a legitimate reason to review the point assignments but "review" does not mean always go along with that request.

About Recuva being the same as Pareto - I was hoping perhaps if Pareto could not find the file - Recuva may just do it.

I am not worried about the points. I am on Experts Exchange to help others, share knowledge, learn heaps and now and then ask a question of my own.

I am really glad to hear you have found the file and the problem is solved.

And yes, looking in the Recycle bin would be one of the last things anyone would have come up with - especially as the file was in place (but blank).

I'm glad to hear the user did not empty the recycle bin before noticing the file.
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