E-Mail Attachments Incompatible with Your Computer?
by Mel Babb

Here’s why and what to do when you can’t open and/or edit an email attachment.  Most likely you do not have the right program or the right version of the program that can read the attachment.  One thing you can do is ask the person who sent the attachment to send it in a format that is compatible with a program you have.  If someone asks you to send the file in an earlier format, here’s what to do.  Open the file choose file save as, and change the file type to the appropriate older format, doc, xls, or ppt. But you may not know what program(s) you have. I’ll talk about that in a minute.  Another thing you can do is download the free Open Office Suite, which includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program and a slide show program and more.  Or you can download the Microsoft compatibility pack.

If someone asks you to send the file in an earlier format, here’s what to do.  Open the file choose file “Save as”, and change the file type to the appropriate older format, doc, xls, PDF or ppt.

First you need to determine why you can’t open or edit an email attachment.  The most likely reason is someone is sending you a version of a file in the new Microsoft Office format and you have older Microsoft office program.  The new formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint programs in Office 2007 or 2010, reduce file size, improve security and reliability, and enhance integration with external sources according to Microsoft.  The files all have an extra letter in their extension, for example, Word files have .docx or .docm.  The x is for a regular file and the m is for a file that has macros in it.  Extensions identify or are associated with the program needed to open the file.  Many times there is more than one program that will work to open the file, although not everyone knows this.  For now let’s look at a couple of programs that will work with these new files and what you have to do to get them.

Let’s look at the free options first.  My best recommendation is to download and install Open Office a free office suite with a word processor, a spreadsheet, slide show program, and more. Search in Google (or the browser of your choice) for Download Open Office. These programs work very much like the old office 2003 or XP.  They do not have the ribbon like the new office 2007 and 2010. 

Now when you get a file, see if it will open with one of the Open Office programs.  If it does then you’re all set from now on.  If it does not open right away, a couple extra steps are needed just once.  First save the file to your hard drive.  Depending on the email program you use, you will either Download the file and save it, or right click on the file and choose Save. Probably the best place to save it is in My Documents which should be the default location. (If you’re used to using Desktop that’s OK too).

Next open My Documents (or Documents if the Operating System is Windows 2007 or 2010) and right click on the file that you just saved. Choose Open With, select Choose Program. It may take 30 seconds or more to show all the programs.  Scroll through the listto Open Office.org Writer for a Word .docx file, Calc for an Excel .xlsx file, and Impress for a PowerPoint pptx or pps file. Check Always use this program to open this kind of file. The next time you receive an attachment with one of these extensions, it will open.

If you create files in Open Office programs, you can save them to the Microsoft Office formats, doc, xls and ppt. Just one time you can set the save format to default to them. Open Writer. Click Tools, Options. Next to Load/Save Click the plus sign (+). Click General. Near the bottom of the box you’ll see blanks for Document type and for Always Save as. Click the down arrow on Always Save as, Choose Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP. You may have to scroll to find it. Click OK. Open the Load/Save again and this time change the Document type to Spreadsheet and choose Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP. Do it a third time and choose Presentation and Microsoft PowerPoint 97/2000/XP.

Microsoft does have a free way that you can open Microsoft attachments also.  You can download and install the free Office viewers which you can find by Googling office converters and viewers. Download three viewers for the 2007 version, one for Word, one for Excel, and one for PowerPoint.  These will read and print all versions of these Microsoft programs.    However you will not be able to edit anything or create anything new.  Whereas, the good thing about using the free Open Office is that you can edit the attachment you open.

Many new computers today come with a trial version of Microsoft Office on it.  After the trial, it will stop working and you will be asked to buy it.  That’s when you can download the free Open Office or the free viewers.  If you do have an old version of Microsoft Office you can still read the new formats once you download and install the Compatibility Pack.

Search in Google for office converters and viewers and download the converters all in one download.  Before you install it be sure that you have done all your high priority windows updates.

There are a few features in Microsoft Office that Open Office cannot read, like smart art.  However the person creating the file can save it in an earlier office format which can be read.  It converts the smart art into a single graphic. So now you know how to see your attachments.

Mel Babb, a long time member of HAL-PC and currently on the volunteer Help committee at HAL-PC. She runs her own company, PC Tutoring Services. She comes to your home and creates notes for you on what you want to learn. See her website www.melpchelp.com and/or contact her at mel@melpchelp.com. Mel Babb © 2011