How to troubleshoot e-mail attachments that won’t open

Here's a conversation I had with a reader the other day. While we can't always answer the questions we get on TipTalk, this one was so intriguing, we talked among ourselves on the Web team to see if we could solve the puzzle. Here's how it turned out...

Coral: I think you have some good comments and I need help on something.  My husband gets e-mail attachments on his computer, sometimes in Word 2003 and sometimes in Excel.  They show up real light and he can't open them.  However, if he forwards the message to my computer, I can open them.  What do I need to do to get them to open on his computer?  We both have Office 2003 which contains both programs but obviously there is something not set right on his computer.

Robbin: We talked about this yesterday and have a hunch this has to do with your husband’s computer settings for Outlook. He may want to check to see if he’s got his Outlook Security settings set up the same as yours. To check or revise your e-mail security options, in Outlook, click on Tools then Options and then click on the Security tab.

Coral: I checked and we both have the same settings.  The only thing I can see that might be different is one was loaded through Microsoft Works Suite and the other was loaded through Word 2003 but I tried reloading and it made no difference.  When it comes up on mine it's just listed as .doc.  However, when I tried to make changes on it and save it, it said "this file must be saved using the word 6.0/95 text converter."  Does that mean it was typed in another format than Microsoft Word 2003??

Robbin: Yes, I think it does. It suggests to me that the person who created the document is using an older version of Word. You might want to go to the Microsoft Download Center  and look on “Word Converter.” I’m not clear of if your husband is creating the document, or receiving it from someone else. If he’s creating it, and you know it’s a current version of Word/Office that he’s creating it with, then this may not be the answer. But it sounds as though you’ve found the critical clue.

Coral: After a lot of playing around, I think I finally found the problem.  His Outlook Express was set for a stronger security setting than mine and it was blocking attachments that there is a chance that it might have a virus in it.  I changed that and now the attachments will open.  Hope he doesn't get a virus now!!

Robbin: Glad this helped. To help protect your computer, please be sure to go to the Microsoft At Home Security  site. You can learn a lot about how to protect your computer, and there’s a place where you can have both of your computers checked for vulnerability.

Also, one thing I didn't suggest to Coral but should have, was to check out all the information about Outlook's security settings. It's easy to find, just click on Help at the top of the page and use Microsoft Office Outlook Help, which will connect you to the Internet and the most current help and documentation available for Outlook.

Skip to main content