How to delete PDFs in Windows 8 and not go mad

Here’s a trick that may keep you from going crazy one day. I wish I’d known it before I gouged this nasty dent in the top of my desk with my forehead.

It’s such a simple thing. Open up File Explorer in Windows 8. Find a PDF that you don’t want. Highlight it. Press Delete to delete it.

If you’re unlucky (and this may not affect everyone), you’ll get an error message: “The action can’t be completed because the file is open in another program. Close the file and try again.”

Windows 8 - cannot delete PDF - file is open in another program

The message has a “Try Again” button. Go ahead! Click it. Maybe it’s like an elevator button – it will work better if you press it over and over.

No. It’s only there to taunt you.

You’ll start by doing the same things I did. You’ll check to make sure Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader are closed. They are. If you’re really hip, you’ll check Microsoft’s Reader program for Windows 8, which is probably installed on your computer. It can also display PDFs and actually has some nifty features but like many of the new Metro programs, nobody uses it. Don’t worry – the file won’t be open there either.

Then you’ll get tricky. Restart the computer. Sneak up on the file and try to figure out how to delete it without highlighting it – hover, gently, gently, and click Delete without making eye contact, and – damn, it’s highlighted and the error message has appeared again. I started going through processes in Task Manager trying to figure out where the goddam file was open.

I know. It’s a small problem. And yet once you’ve got a file that you want to delete but you can’t make it go away, you can’t ever forget it. It’s the itch that you can’t scratch.

Here are the two tricks.

Explorer ribbon - turn off Preview Pane

  •  METHOD 1: In Explorer, click on View, then click to turn off the Preview Pane. For some reason, after turning off the Preview Pane, it seems to take 10-15 seconds to take effect – and then you can delete PDFs freely. The red mist in front of your eyes will start to recede.

Pro tip: While you’re in the View ribbon, make sure that “File Extensions” is checked, so you can see file types – .DOCX, .PDF, .JPG – at the end of file names. It makes life much easier. I never have figured out why that’s not the default setting.

  •  METHOD 2: hold the Shift key down when you click Delete. You’ll be allowed to delete the file but you’ll get a warning: deleting while Shift is depressed bypasses the Recycle Bin. The file will disappear, never to be recovered if you make a mistake.

A couple of things to note:

  •  This problem is new to Windows 8. You can delete PDFs in Windows 7 just like any other file, with or without the Preview Pane.

  •  This only affects PDFs. You can delete Word and Excel files and JPGs and everything else just fine. PDFs are special.

Since this is the only frustrating thing about Windows 8, once you know this trick it’s smooth sailing from now on. Right?

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