A particular extension doesn't have a meaning. There are several that have become recognized, but that is only because Windows has a mechanism to associate an application with a file extension to allow it to be directly launched and read. That doesn't prevent me from taking an executable file and renaming with an extension of .xls. If I tried to open the .xls file, Windows would launch Excel because of the association it understands and upon launching, Excel would promptly puke on the file, because it isn't the correct format. Unless you know what application generated the file, there won't be any way of accessing it. Everything can be opened in Notepad, but not everything is readable in Notepad.
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This was first published in February 2004