Slow file opening on Windows XP

For years I have suffered from having to wait for a long time (sometimes several minutes) when opening Word and Excel files on my Windows system.  It isn’t always slow, but when it is, it is really slow.

Recently, I found the cause of the problem and the solution.  So, if you suffer from the same problem, read on.

Windows opens many files, and especially ones that relate to Microsoft software using a technology known as DDE.  This allows applications to share data, but when everything doesn’t work as expected, something somewhere in the Windows system has to time out before you can open your file.

The solution, if you don’t need DDE, is to turn it off for the file types that cause you the problem.  In my case, these are .doc, .docx, .xls and .xlsx.  You will need to turn it off for each file type affected, but the method is the same in every case.

A word of warning: if you don’t know what a pathname or a parameter is, you should probably get a friend who is more confident with PCs to help you.  If you mess this up, you might struggle to get things working again.

Open file manager (or press My Documents) and select the Tools menu then Folder Options…, then press the File Types tab.

Find the relevant extension in the file type list (eg DOC for .doc files) and highlight the entry.

Folder options dialog with DOC type highlighted
Folder options dialog

Press Advanced, highlight Open,

Edit File Type dialog with Open selected
Edit File Type dialog

and press Edit… to display the Editing action for type dialog.

Editing Action for Type dialog in initial state
Editing Action for Type dialog

Uncheck the Use DDE checkbox and edit the string in the Application used to perform action: box:

  • ensure that there are quotes around the application pathname (if you fail to do this, Windows will fail to find the application if there are any spaces in the pathname, eg “Program Files”)
  • ensure that there is no /dde switch on the parameter list
  • ensure that there is a “%1” parameter (if there isn’t one, Windows will add it automatically, but it won’t put in the quotes and if you have a space in the pathname to the file you are opening, eg “My Documents”, then it will try to open multiple invalid documents which will fail)

You then need to click OK and Close as appropriate, and that’s it.  Except, you may need to redo this every time you apply a Windows update to your PC.  That’s a pain, but not as big a pain as waiting and waiting and waiting for  documents to open.