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Microsoft Magic

Summary:
Message outlines three seemingly strange procedures in Microsoft Windows operating systems and claims that not even Microsoft knows why these procedures work as they do (Full commentary below).



Status:
The procedures are real, but the reasons they occur are well documented.

Example:(Submitted, October 2007)
Subject: Microsoft Magic

MAGIC #1
An Indian discovered that nobody can create a FOLDER anywhere on the computer which can be named as "CON". This is something pretty cool…and unbelievable… At Microsoft the whole Team, couldn't answer why this happened!

TRY IT NOW ,IT WILL NOT CREATE "CON" FOLDER

MAGIC #2
For those of you using Windows, do the following:
1) Open an empty notepad file
2) Type "Bush hid the facts" (without the quotes)
3) Save it as whatever you want..
4) Close it, and re-open it.
Is it just a really weird bug? At Microsoft they say they don't know why this happens.

MAGIC #3
Microsoft's crazy facts

This is something pretty cool and neat…and unbelievable… At Microsoft the whole Team, including Bill Gates, couldn't answer why this happened!

It was discovered by a Brazilian.. Try it out yourself….

Open Microsoft Word and type

=rand (200, 99)

And then press ENTER then see the magic…….




Commentary:
This message combines three Microsoft Windows "magic tricks" that also circulate individually. The message is often posted to online message boards and blogs and also circulates via email. According to the message, not even Microsoft can explain why these procedures invoke such strange and unexpected outcomes.

The procedures outlined are real and do work as described. However, there is no mystery whatsoever. I discuss each "magic" item in turn below:

MAGIC #1
It is in fact perfectly true that you cannot create a folder named "CON", nor can you rename an existing folder to "CON". However, the "team" at Microsoft, and a great many others besides, know perfectly well why you cannot name a folder "CON".

"CON" and a number of other character strings are in fact reserved names that go back to the days of DOS and cannot be used to name folders or files. Other reserved names are:
If you try to name a folder using one of these reserved names, the name will automatically revert to the default, generally "New Folder". Moreover, if you try to use a reserved name to name a file such as a Notepad or Microsoft Word document you will generally receive an error message similar to the following:
Reserved name warning

Depending on exactly how you save the file, you may instead receive a warning message advising that a file with that name already exists. However, even if you choose "Yes" to overwrite the existing file, you will still not be allowed* to save the file.

While there is no mystery about this issue, it might have saved user confusion if Windows displayed an explanatory error message when attempting to create a folder with a reserved name as well.

For more detailed information see:
MS-DOS Device Driver Names Cannot be Used as File Names

*Note: It may be possible to create a folder using a reserved name via the command prompt. However, this may cause other problems and is not advisable.



MAGIC #2
It is true that, when the phrase "Bush hid the facts" is typed into the Windows XP or Windows NT/2000 versions of Notepad as instructed above, the re-opened file displays an unreadable line of squares or Chinese style characters.

The first image below shows the text before closing the Notepad file. The second image shows the text as it is displayed after the file is re-opened:

Bush hid the facts before closing Bush hid the facts after re-opening

Some of the more wide-eyed conspiracy theorists postulate that this result is a form of political commentary directed against US President Bush.

Alas, the truth is far less compelling. It appears that a lot of other character strings in the pattern 4 letters, 3 letters, 3 letters and 5 letters will give the same result. For example, the phrase "Bill fed the goats" also displays the garbled text as shown below:

Bill fed the goats before closing Bill fed the goats after re-opening

In fact, even a line of text such as "hhhh hhh hhh hhhhh" will elicit the same results.

However, some character strings that fit the "4,3,3,5" pattern do not generate the error. For example, the phrase "Bush hid the truth" is displayed normally. However, conspiracy theorists should not take this as aiding their argument. "Fred led the brats", "brad ate the trees" and other strings also escape the error.

Thus, any hint of political conspiracy fades into oblivion and is replaced by a rather mundane programming bug. It seems that a certain combination and/or frequency of letters in the character string cause Notepad to misinterpret the encoding of the file when it is re-opened. If the file is originally saved as "Unicode" rather than "ANSI" the text displays correctly. Older versions of Notepad such as those that came with Windows 95, 98 or ME do not include Unicode support so the error does not occur.

MAGIC #3
Using the rand() function in the way described automatically adds sample text to a word document. In Word 2003 and earlier versions, the rand() function adds several sentences and paragraphs that repeat the words, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. These words are often used for testing because, together, they contain all the letters in the English alphabet in one concise and coherent sentence. Such a sentence is known as a pangram.

In Word 2007, the rand() function adds information about using specific Word features in order to create a more realistic document for testing. However, if you wish to use the "Quick Brown Fox" pangram in Word 2007, you can still do so by inputting the function =rand.old(). Another Word 2007 option is to use =lorem(), This function automatically adds the familiar Lorem ipsum dummy text that has been used by the printing and typesetting industry since the 1500's. Nowadays, Lorem ipsum text is also used extensively by web developers and publishers to add random text to such things as templates and website prototypes.

You can alter the results of the rand() function by adding numbers in the round brackets. The first number controls the number of paragraphs while the second number controls the number of sentences in each paragraph. For example, using "rand(3,5)" will add three paragraphs of five sentences each. Leaving the brackets empty will add the default number of paragraphs and sentences, which is set at three sentences and three paragraphs.

Far from being a mystery, this is a well-documented feature of Microsoft Word that simply allows sample text to be quickly added to a document for testing purposes. Microsoft can in fact "explain the result" and does so in an article on the MS Support website.

Thus, although these little computer tricks are interesting, there is no mystery or magic involved and Microsoft certainly does know about them.

References:
MS-DOS Device Driver Names Cannot be Used as File Names
How to insert sample text into a document in Word
Lorem ipsum

Last updated: 2nd November 2009
First published: 19th October 2007

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen

Related articles:
Bush Hid The Facts - Notepad Conspiracy Claim
Microsoft Word Sample Text Trick - The Quick Brown Fox