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Editing a Word document creates temporary files. Depending on your settings and the location of your original document, those temporary files can become visible.

Whenever I open a Word 7 document, I get a ghostly icon on my desktop sometimes with a tilde dollar before the icon name. Once there was a time when these little ghosts did not appear. I must have done something strange to cause them, but I know not what. What can I do to eliminate them completely?

When you edit a Word document, Microsoft Word will create a temporary file for your work in progress so as not to overwrite the document that you're working on until you actually click Save.

In this video segment from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll show that icon, explain why it's probably visible, and what if anything to do.

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Whenever I open a Word 7 document, I get a ghostly icon on my desktop sometimes with a tilde dollar before the icon name. Once there was a time when these little ghosts did not appear. I must have done something strange to cause them, but I know not what. What can I do to eliminate them completely?

So, you didn't do anything strange and in fact, there's a very good chance that if you've been reading Ask Leo! for awhile, you did something I told you to do.

So, let me show what's going on here first. You can see here I have an example document on my desktop and is just that; an example document in Word and you'll notice there is no ghostly tilde dollar file. I'm going to close it and now I'm going to bring up Windows Explorer real quick. We're going to the Tools menu and Change a Folder option.

The Folder option that may have suggested you change is this thing about showing hidden files, folders, and drives. Click OK and you'll notice right away; I'm going to go ahead and close Windows Explorer and you'll notice right away that a couple of ghostly files actually showed up. Two copies of I won't go into why there are two right now, but the fact is that they are files on the desktop.

They were just hidden so we have this Word document here on my desktop. I'm going to double-click it open again and son of a gun, there is a file called tildedollarampledocumentation. I grab the properties for it so that you can see that, in fact, they replaced the first character, the 'S' with the tilde dollar sign so that it actually is tildedollarampledocument.doc.

So what that is: when Word works on a document, it creates a temporary file. It's that temporary file that Word makes all of its changes in; saves things to disc on and so forth so that it doesn't modify the original file until you're actually done. Until you actually say Save. That is what's happening here. Now, the other thing that had to come together for this to happen, you have to actually have the document on your desktop.

The document itself is in your desktop folder. I typically don't run that way. I tend not to like a lot of things on my desktop. I know many people do, but this folder, this desktop folder is special in that every file that shows up in the desktop folder is actually something that's meant to be displayed on your desktop, so when Word opens up and creates this temporary file in the same folder as the document... Well, that's the desktop that's going to get displayed. If as you saw, we had hidden Show hidden files and folders turned on.

I'm going to leave Word open so that this document, this temporary file sticks around. I'm going to go back to Windows Explorer and once again, by the way, I'm making this menu show up simply by hitting the Alt key. By default, it doesn't show, but it does show easily by pressing Alt. Clicking Folder Options and going to go back to View and I'm going to go ahead and say Don't show hidden files, folders or drives, which is the default setting for most Windows and you'll see that right away, we're back.

The file is still there; it's just hidden. So it really now, what you want to do really depends on what you want to see or not see. There are several solutions for this problem. One is don't place your documents on your desktop. Place them in a different folder so that when you open the document in that other folder, the temporary file gets created in that other folder.

The other approach is turn off Show hidden files. I tend to like showing files just because I want to see what's on my machine. I want to really see everything that's on my machine and then of course, the third solution (which is actually the solution that I tend to live with on my own desktop although I don't put documents there) is live with.

Just understand what it is; it's a temporary file that Word's created while you're editing the document and don't worry about it. It's not hurting anything. It's just showing up. That is what I would typically suggest you end up doing is just go ahead and ignore it.

Article C5461 - June 13, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Ward Webber
June 15, 2012 10:19 AM

What I wonder about is why some of those temporary files remain behind long after I've closed or even deleted their Word documents. I'd delete them, but I'm afraid of damaging any whose "real" document still exists.

Mark J
June 15, 2012 11:49 AM

That is not extremely uncommon. It's generally safe to simply delete the.m If they are being used by MS Office, you would be blocked from deleting them.

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