Fix: Excel Found Unreadable Content

Several users are reporting that their Excel program keeps generating the following error message when they try to open a spreadsheet: ‘Excel found unreadable content’. Some affected users report that the issue only occurs with a particular document while others argue that the problem is occurring with every document that they try to open with Excel.

‘Excel found unreadable content’ error

What is causing the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error?

We investigated this particular issue by looking at various user reports and the repair strategies that some affected users have deployed successfully to resolve the issue. Based on what we gathered, there are several  common culprits that are known to trigger this particular issue:

  • Excel lacks administrator privileges – As it turns out, this particular error can occur if the user account doesn’t have administrative privileges when opening Excel. Several affected users have managed to resolve the issue by forcing excel to open with admin privileges before trying to open the XLS file.
  • The file is perceived as read-only – There is an old, unresolved Office bug that will sometime cause Word and Excel files to be seen as read-only. This might end up triggering this particular error message. In this case, the solution is to simply move the file into a different folder to refresh the permissions.
  • The file needs to be ‘sanitized’ – There are cases where Excel messes up the .XLS file in such a way that it either becomes unusable or it will trigger an error message every time the user tries to open it. A popular fix in this particular scenario is to convert it to a different format – either directly from Excel or by using another 3rd party Office suite like OpenOffice.
  • Visual Basic Component is missing – This particular issue can also occur if your Office installation is missing the Visual Basic component. Forcing the Ofice Installation to install the Visual Basic Component has resolved the issue for a lot of afected users.
  • Excel Cache is full – As it turns out, you might also be encountering this particular issue if Excel’s cache becomes full and cannot store the file of the lastly opened document. In this case, the solution is to simply close all files and then reopen Excel.
  • The file is blocked – If you’ve downloaded the excel file from the Internet or you’ve recieved it via Email, your operating system might have blocked it for security reasons. If this scenario is applicable, you can resolve the issue by unblocking the file.
  • System dosen’t support hardware acceleration – On low specification systems, this particular issue is frequently reported if the system cannot allocate enough resources to support hardware acceleration. In this case, the sfix is to access the Advanced Excel settings and disable hardware acceleration.

If you’re struggling to resolve the same error message, this article will provide you with several troubleshooting steps. Down below, you’ll find several potential repair strategies that users trying to resolve the same problem have successfully used.

If you want to be as efficient as possible, follow the methods in the order that they are presented – they are ordered by efficiency and difficulty.

Method 1: Opening Excel with Admin privileges

One quick fix that might circumvent the issue is to open Excel as an administrator first, and only then open the Excel file that is triggering the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error. Most commonly, this is reported to occur on computers in which the active user account doesn’t have admin access.

Here’s a quick guide on ensuring that Excel has admin privileges before opening the file:

  1. Right-click on the Excel launcher and choose Run as Administrator. When prompted by the UAC (User Account Control) click on Yes to grant administrative privileges.
    Running Excel as Administrator
  2. Once Excel is opened with admin privileges, open the file that was previously throwing the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error.
    Opening the affected file with Admin privileges

If you’re still seeing the same error message even when Excel is opened with admin privileges, move down to the next method below.

Method 2: Moving the file into a different folder

Although there’s no official explanation of why this fix is effective, a lot of users have reported that hey successfully resolve the issue just by moving the Excel file from one folder to another.

If you’re after a quick fix, simply cut and paste the file that is triggering the  ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error in a different location and see if the issue is resolved.

If this workaround doesn’t resolve the issue or you’re looking for a permanent fix, move down to the next methods below.

Method 3: Saving the file as Web Page

One popular workaround that a lot of affected users have reported as a “satisfactory” resolution to the  ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error is to save the file as a Web Page and then open the .html file in Excel and save the file back to a .xls format.

While this doesn’t treat the source of the issue, it’s a fast workaround if you don’t have time to spend troubleshooting the issue thoroughly. Here’s what you need to work around the error message by saving the file as Web Page:

  1. Open the page that is showing the error and click Yes at the error prompt. Then, go to File, choose Save As and click on browse. Next, type in a name for the file (next fo Filename) and select Web Page (.htm, html.) from the drop-down menu associate with Save as type. Then, hit Save to convert the file into a .html file.
    Saving the Excel file as Web Page
  2. Open Excel, and go to File > Open and browse to the file that you previously converted to the HTML file format and choose Open.
    Opening the Web page file in Excel
  3. Once the HTML file is opened in Excel, go to File > Save > Save As and save the file as Excel 97-2003 (.xls).
    Converting the file back to an XLS format

    Once the file has been converted to XLS, you should no longer be encountering the issue.

But in case you’re still seeing the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error when trying to open the file, move down to the next method below.

Method 4: Installing the Visual Basic component (Office 2010/2013)

As it turns out, this particular error can occur if the Visual Basic component is missing from your Office 2010 / Office 2013 installation.  Several users that have been encountering the issue with every  .xlsm files that they tried to open have reported that the issue was resolved after they forced the Visual Basic Component to install on their computer.

Note: Some affected users have reported that this particular issue was effective even if they already had the Visual Basic Component installed. When you choose to run VBA from your computer (as shown below), the installer will make a change on your office installation (which might resolve the issue automatically)

Here’s a quick guide on forcing the Microsoft Office installation to add the Visual Basic component:

  1. Press Windows key + R  to open up a Run dialog box. Then, type “appwiz.cpl” and press Enter to open up the Programs and Features menu.
    Type appwiz.cpl and Press Enter to Open Installed Programs List
  2. Inside the Programs and Features window, scroll down through the list of applications and locate your Microsoft Office installation (Microsoft Office Office 2010 / Microsoft Office 2013).
  3. Once you manage to locate the Office installation, right-click on it and click on Change.
    Changing the installation of Microsoft Office
  4. Once you arrive inside the Microsoft Office Setup window, choose Add or Remove Features, then click on Continue to advance.
    Microsoft Office Setup wizard
  5. Scroll through the list of add-ons that can be installed on Microsoft Office and expand the drop-down menu associated with Office Shared Features.  Then, right-click on Visual Basic for Applications and choose Run from My Computer.
    Configuring Visual Basic for Applications to install on your Office installation
  6. Hit Continue, then follow the on-screen prompts to complete the Microsoft Upgrade. Once the process is complete, restart your computer and see if the issue has been resolved at the next startup.

If you’re still encountering the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error when trying to open an Excel file, move down to the next method below.

Method 5: Closing all Files and reopening Excel

Several users have reported that for them, the error only occurs when they have more than one Excel file open at the same time. Although there is no official explanation of why this occurs, affected users have discovered that the issue is related to some kind of cache, that when full, is unable to process any more documents.

Fortunately, some users have managed to find a workaround for when this occurs.

Whenever you’re prompted by the ‘Excel found unreadable content’, click No at the prompt, and then proceed to close all Excel files that you currently have opened. Then, open the files again individually and you’ll no longer encounter the error message.

Clicking No at the error prompt

Note:  This workaround was confirmed to be effective with Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Unfortunately, most affected users report that the fix is the only temporary, and the error message is likely to return at the next startup.

If you’re still encountering the error message or you’re looking for a permanent fix, move down to the next method below.

Method 6: Using  Apache OpenOffice to save the file for Excel 97/2000 format

Some users that we’re struggling to resolve the same issue have reported that they were finally able to circumvent the issue by using Apache OpenOffice to open the Excel file and convert it to an older format (Excel 97/2000). Based on multiple user reposts, this eliminates the error and allows you to open the excel file without the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error.

Here’s a quick guide on using Apache Open Office to convert the Excel file to an older format :

  1. Visit this link here, select Windows (EXE), your language of choice and then choose the latest version available from the last drop-down menu.  Then, click Download full installation to initiate the download.
    Downloading the Apache OpenOffice installation
  2. Once the download is complete, open the installation executable and follow the on-screen prompts to install the utility on your system.
    Installing Apache OpenOffice on your computer

    Note: If you want to speed up the installation process, choose Custom setup type and disable evert module except for OpenOffice Calc.

    Installing Open Office Cal
  3. Once the installation is complete, restart your computer if prompted to do so.
  4. At the next startup, right-click on the excel file that was previously triggering the error and choose Open With > OpenOffice Calc.

    Opening the Excel file with OpenOffice Calc
  5. You might be prompted to configure OpenOffice if it’s the first time you open a program from the suite. If this does happen, enter the required credentials and hit Finish.
    OpenOffice Welcome message
  6. At the text import screen, leave the default values and click OK to import required text.
    Importing text into OpenOffice Calc
  7. Once the sheet is opened inside OpenOffice Calc,  go to File > Save As.
    Using the Save as a function inside OpenOffice Calc
  8. From the Save as menu, enter a file name for the file, then set the Save as type to Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP and hit the Save button.
    Saving the for Excel Compatibility mode
  9. Close OpenOffice, then navigate to the location of the recently saved file and open it with Excel. You should no longer be encountering the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error.

If you’re still encountering the same error message, move down to the next method below.

Method 7: Ensure that the file is not blocked

As some users have reported, this particular error message can also occur if the file that you are trying to open is blocked. Most of the time, this is reported to happen with Excel files that have been downloaded or received via email.

Note: With Office 2007, you might find that multi-sheet Excel files will be randomly blocked. This is a well-known bug that has been addressed with newer builds.

Here’s a quick guide on unblocking an Excel file:

  1. Use File Explorer to navigate to the location of the file.
  2. Right-click on the excel file and choose Properties.

    Right-click Excel and choose Properties
  3.  Inside the Properties screen go to the General tab and click the checkbox associated with Unblock. Then, hit Apply to save the changes.
    Unblocking a file
  4. Open the file again in excel and see if you’re still seeing the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error.

If the same problem is still occurring, move down to the next method below.

Method 8: Disabling Hardware acceleration

As it turns out, this particular issue can also occur if the resources on your computer are insufficient to support hardware acceleration. Fortunately, you can resolve this issue (if this scenario is applicable) by accessing the advanced Microsoft Excel settings and disabling Hardware graphics acceleration.

This might make your Excel program a little less responsive, but a lot of users that have been encountering this issue on low-spec computers have reported that this allowed them to eliminate the issue entirely.

Here’s how to disable hardware acceleration on Microsoft Office:

Note: The guide below can be followed on any Microsoft Excel version.

  1. Open Microsoft Excel and go to File, then click on Options.
  2. Inside the Excel Options menu, select the Advanced tab from the left-hand side menu.
  3. Inside the Advanced tab, scroll down to the Display section and check the box associated with Disable hardware graphics acceleration.
  4. Hit Ok to save the changes, then restart Excel to force the changes to take effect.
  5. Once Excel is back up and running, open the file that was previously triggering the ‘Excel found unreadable content’ error and see if the issue has been resolved.
Disabling Hardware Acceleration on Excel

Kevin Arrows

Kevin Arrows is a highly experienced and knowledgeable technology specialist with over a decade of industry experience. He holds a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification and has a deep passion for staying up-to-date on the latest tech developments. Kevin has written extensively on a wide range of tech-related topics, showcasing his expertise and knowledge in areas such as software development, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. His contributions to the tech field have been widely recognized and respected by his peers, and he is highly regarded for his ability to explain complex technical concepts in a clear and concise manner.