Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Problems with Default Workbook and Worksheet Templates.

Problems with Default Workbook and Worksheet Templates

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 3, 2017)

David decided that he wanted to create default templates for Excel. He created both book.xlt and sheet.xlt files and stored both templates in the xlstart folder. He then restarted Excel, whereupon he was greeted with the message "The file is not in a recognizable format." If he clicks OK, the workbook opens, appearing as garbage. After a fraction of a second, another window opens, displaying a blank worksheet with the expected formatting on the top row and left column. David knows the template is not really corrupted; he can copy it to a different folder and open it just fine in Excel. The error only happens when he puts the templates in the xlstart folder.

Checking to make sure that the template is not corrupt is a good first step. It is also good that you are trying to store these templates in xlstart—this is where Excel expects your default templates to be. (This has been discussed in other issues of ExcelTips.) You should also try the following ideas:

  • Make sure that the template is really a template. In other words, use the Format setting in the Save As dialog box to specify you are saving an Excel template. (Don't just change the filename extension on the workbook file and expect it to recognized as a template by Excel.)
  • Check to see if there are any other files in the xlstart folder or in the default startup folder. (You need to check both places.) If there are other files, you might want to move them to make sure that they aren't causing problems with loading the default templates.

If the problem still exists, then you may really have a corrupt file after all. There could be something out of kilter in the file that allows it to be loaded directly into Excel, but doesn't allow it to be loaded as a default template. You can try to fix any minor corruption by saving the file in HTML format, restarting Excel, loading the HTML file, and resaving it as a template.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3867) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Problems with Default Workbook and Worksheet Templates.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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