7 Windows Mysteries You Never Understood Resolved

Ben Stegner 14-09-2017

Modern computers don’t require much to get running How Windows Has Become More User-Friendly, 5 Examples Over time, Windows has smoothed rough edges and created a more user-friendly experience, especially for novice users. Here are five big reasons that Windows is easier to use than ever before. Read More : simply boot them up and you’re ready to work. But have you ever stopped to think about what’s going on behind the scenes on your Windows PC?


Let’s take a look at some of these mysteries. You may wonder why Windows is particular in some of these areas, or perhaps never noticed them at all. Here are answers to some of the little mysterious elements of your everyday operating system.

1. What Happens When I Delete a File?

Whenever you press Delete on a file, where does it go? As it turns out, the doomed file actually has two steps before it’s truly deleted. Assuming you haven’t disabled the Recycle Bin Delete These Windows Files and Folders to Free Up Disk Space Want to clear disk space on your Windows computer? Take a look at these Windows files and folders you can safely delete. Read More , deleting a file first sends it there. Anytime after a file goes to the Recycle Bin, you can easily open it up and click Restore File to get it back.

This is a safety net in case you delete a file by mistake. Windows doesn’t actually mark the file for deletion until you manually empty the Recycle Bin (or clear it using a tool like CCleaner or Windows 10’s Storage Sense Automatically Free Up Disk Space with Windows 10 Storage Sense When you're running out of disk space, what do you do? Windows 10 has a feature called Storage Sense that can help you clear those space hogs. We show you how to set it up. Read More ). Even after this, though, the file isn’t truly gone. At this point, Windows marks the file as clear to overwrite on the disk.

So for a time, there’s a chance you can recover the deleted file with a tool like Recuva. But if you write a lot of data to the disk before you attempt recovery, the system could overwrite that file and you’re then out of luck. This is why to truly erase a file, you must completely overwrite the disk with garbage data. Completely overwriting any space where a file was still sitting around waiting for Windows to overwrite it ensures that nobody can recover it.

2. File and Folder Name Restrictions

Chances are that you’ve tried to name a file or folder with a special character and Windows didn’t let you. Characters like /, *, and : don’t work in file names. The reasoning behind this comes from the way the Windows filesystem works.


For example, Windows uses the \ character to differentiate between directories. Using the cd (change directory) command, you could point to a file on your hard drive, like C:\Users\Ben\Dropbox\MakeUseOf\Windows Mysteries.

What would happen if I had named the file Windows\Mysteries instead of Windows Mysteries? The file system would see Mysteries as a file in a folder named Windows. You can imagine how this would cause confusion, so the computer simply doesn’t allow it.

windows file name not allowed

Windows blocks the colon for a similar reason: it designates to Windows that the preceding name is a device (like C:\ referring to your internal hard drive). But some of the others are seemingly to prevent user confusion.


The asterisk character is a wildcard in the Command Prompt, so typing del *.* would delete all files in the current directory. If you could name a file *.txt, that would conflict with a command like del *.txt in the Command Prompt. Someone typing that command might want to delete a single file with that name, but it would actually delete all files with a .txt extension.

You might think these restrictions are archaic since the Command Prompt isn’t how we navigate files anymore. But chances are these restrictions have existed in Windows for decades, and they haven’t had reason to remove them 5 Legacy Windows Features Microsoft Can't Retire Yet Microsoft has removed many older features from Windows over time. But these legacy features aren't going away anytime soon. Read More .

No Folders Named Con

Aside from characters, some entire words won’t work as file names. These include CON, AUX, LPT1, and more. Unsurprisingly, this restriction is due to the system reserving these words. CON is the keyboard and display functionality, AUX refers to a device using a serial port, and LPT1 is a parallel printer port.

If you could create files with these names, Windows wouldn’t know if you were referring to the folder or system function. This is a lot like reserved words in a programming language. You can’t name a variable while, int, or other names that already have special meanings.


3. Microsoft Word Has a Lot to Say

Some functions in Windows are likely quick tricks left over by developers for ease of testing the software. One such trick exists in Microsoft Word. Type the following line followed by Enter, and Word will generate a large amount of text for you:

=rand(5, 10)

The first number controls how many paragraphs Word will create, and the second is the number of lines per paragraph.

word rand function

In newer versions of Word, the generated text comes from Office help documents. Older versions simply repeated The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog over and over, which you can insert with this command:

=rand.old(5, 10)

Finally, if you prefer good old-fashion lorem ipsum text, use this alternative line:

=lorem(5, 10)

This function is useful for adding dummy text without having to copy and paste it from a website. Maybe you want to check how the margins look or try out a new font in Word. While this was likely left in by Microsoft programmers, it’s a helpful trick for home users too. Chances are, they moved away from the quick brown fox text because it wasn’t varied enough to mimic a real document.

4. Why Is There a Separate Program Files (x86) Folder?

In our discussion of 32-bit and 64-bit machines What's the Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Windows? What's the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows? Here's a simple explanation and how to check which version you have. Read More , we noted that on a 64-bit installation of Windows, you have both a Program Files and Program Files (x86) folder. 32-bit programs still work in 64-bit Windows, of course, but why couldn’t they just throw everything together?

Essentially, it’s to keep 32-bit programs working the same way they always have, without limiting 64-bit programs. Some older 32-bit programs existed before 64-bit was an option. Thus they have no idea that 64-bit DLL files (which are standard libraries in Windows regularly used by programs) even exist. Having a 32-bit program try to use a 64-bit DLL would result in an error The 5 Most Common Windows Errors and How to Fix Them Don't let a Blue Screen of Death ruin your Windows experience. We've collected causes and solutions for the most common Windows errors so you can fix them when they pop up. Read More .

Thus, by keeping 32-bit programs and their DLLs separate from 64-bit programs, both remain functional without impeding on the other.

5. How Does Windows Know About Frozen Programs?

Every Windows user knows the annoyance of a program freezing The 8 Most Common Reasons Why Windows Gets Unresponsive Here are some of the most common reasons your computer becomes unresponsive so you can identify and fix these issues. Read More . After a few seconds of non-responsiveness, you’ll see a popup asking if you want to wait for the program to respond or kill it How to Force Close a Program Without Task Manager Wondering how to force close a frozen program on Windows? Here are several ways to force-close apps without the Task Manager. Read More .

While this does come up for completely frozen programs, you’ll often see it when an app is taking some time to complete a task. Why is that?

Programs get user input events (like moving the mouse or typing on the keyboard) from a Windows queue. If an app doesn’t check this queue for about five seconds, Windows figures that the program is locked up and you see the popup. This could be legitimate, like when an application isn’t working properly.

But it can also happen when a program is really busy. Let’s say you have an Excel spreadsheet with 5,000 cells filled. If you select the entire spreadsheet and paste it into a new sheet, that’s a pretty taxing operation for Excel to work through. Excel isn’t checking for your input while it processes your paste request, which could take more than five seconds. That’s why if you click Wait when Windows alerts you, you return to Excel and the operation will finish up.

6. What Account Runs Before You Log In?

Before you sign into your Windows account, the computer has to load drivers so that you can see the screen, use your mouse and keyboard, and perform similar functions. Where is all this running from if no account is logged into Windows?

Essentially, there are two behind-the-scenes accounts running at this time. System drivers, like those for display and input, run at the kernel level and do not need a user account to work. The actual login window is a process in itself (logonui.exe) and runs under the SYSTEM account.

SYSTEM has the same file privileges as the hidden Administrator account, but Windows uses it as an internal account.

Unlike the Administrator, you can’t change the user properties of SYSTEM. Open up the Task Manager using the Ctrl + Shift + Esc shortcut, and check out the Details tab. You’ll notice that apps you’re using, like Chrome and Office, have your account under the User name header. But system processes, like wininit.exe, run under SYSTEM.

windows task manager system details

7. Bush Hid the Facts

This is a fan-favorite Windows glitch from the days of Windows XP. Microsoft fixed it in Vista and later, so you can’t try it yourself anymore, but the explanation is still interesting.

In Windows XP and earlier, if you typed Bush hid the facts into a Notepad document, then saved and opened it, you’d get a garbled mess of Chinese characters. Because it was strange and related to the U.S. President at the time, it circulated around the web. But the bug doesn’t have anything to do with the actual phrase.

This occurred when Windows incorrectly encoded the text in the Notepad document. The particular length of characters caused Windows to think that it’s valid Chinese Unicode, and interprets the text in the wrong character encoding. Thus when you re-open it, you find the nonsensical Chinese text instead of English.

Many phrases starting with a four-letter word, followed by two three-letter words, and ending with a five-letter word will trigger this bug. There’s no political commentary here — John got the snack could potentially result in the same error.

What Windows Mysteries Do You Ponder?

These seven Windows oddities all have logical explanations, but they are funny and/or confusing if you don’t know about them. With an operating system as old as Windows, you’re bound to find the effects of decisions made decades ago 4 Archaic Functions Windows 10 Still Supports Windows 10 might have cut a lot of features, but there are several ancient functions still hiding in the operating system. Here are four you might not expect Windows to still support. Read More when computing was much different. It’s enjoyable to learn more about the computer you use every day, and chances are we’ll see more mysteries like this crop up in the future.

Want more unexplained phenomena? Check out the internet’s best destinations for unsolved mysteries Catch Unsolved Mysteries & Unexplainable Things on These 5 Sites Do you want to be a detective in a real-life mystery? You can get started today. Follow the top unsolved crimes with the help of these websites. Read More .

Did you know about any of these Windows mysteries? What little bits make you scratch your head? Add your thoughts down in the comments!

Image Credit: STYLEPICS/Depositphotos

Related topics: File Management, Microsoft Word, Restore Data.

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  1. Cecil Britton
    September 21, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    In item 3 you say type "=rand(3, 5)" to see a specific printed sample. Where does this typing take place? I can't see doing it at a command prompt because "rand" is not a command and "lorem" is not a command. If you type these words into a Word document they are simply that, words in a document. From what entry point are you typing these commands, is it VBA?

    • Jim S.
      September 22, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Did you actually try this before writing your comment? Open a blank document in Word and type the commands as shown in the article. Do not forget the "=" or the commands will appear as text. You will learn something new by trying something new today.

      • Cecil Britton
        September 23, 2017 at 4:06 pm

        Of course I tried it. Despite the implication of the reply, I'm not an idiot who complains for the fun of it. I have been using MS Word since its inception and I can tell you that you cannot open a new Word .docx document, type "=rand(3, 5) and get any printed response from the software. Maybe my copy of Word 2016/365 is defective?

        • Ben Stegner
          September 25, 2017 at 2:19 pm

          I'm not sure what the difference is for you, then. I typed the exact line shown in the screenshot and it generated the text instantly for me. Perhaps you have macros turned off or something? I'm using pretty vanilla Word settings.

  2. netcoder1
    September 15, 2017 at 2:06 am

    There are actually three steps to deleting a file (assuming you enabled the Recycle Bin). First, it moves there. Then, it is removed from the filesystem. Lastly, which is a step you cannot take simply in Windows, zeroing out the actually data. Until that last step is done, files can be accessible either partially or completely.

    TLDR; emptying the recycle bin deletes nothing.

    • fnkfrsh
      September 15, 2017 at 7:30 am

      That's exactly what they wrote..

    • g.m.nelson
      September 19, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      the actual data never moves or changes, in the first step the file name is moved to the recycle bin. in the second step the file name is erased and the entire chain of data blocks used is flagged in the FAT/MFT (file allocation table) as available for use. when a file is saved (only new, changed, copied) the system looks for the first available data block and uses as many blocks as needed in sequence (this is the reason for fragmentation). when a file is moved within the same disk only the pointer is changed (the reason it is instantaneous).