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In order to open these attachments, you need to have an application installed on your computer that understands those types of files.

.doc and .docx attachments will not open in Windows Mail on my Vista computer system.

In this excerpt from Answercast #56, I look at the way email attachments work with the programs installed on your computer.

Opening files

You need to have an application that understands .doc and .docx files installed on your computer. It's not the mail program that knows what to do with these things.

What happens with attachments is that the mail program says, "Oh, here's a .doc file. I'll ask Windows what program it has installed that understands .doc files. I'll have Windows run that program and open the .doc in the program that understands .doc."

You need the right program

If you don't have a program that understands those file extensions, files of those types, then you have nothing to open it with.

Windows Mail certainly doesn't know what to do with it. All it would normally would do is ask Windows what to do. Windows has no answers, so there's nothing that can be done.

Word processing files

Now, in the case of .doc and docx, those are files created by Microsoft Office Word. Those are Word processing documents. So, that implies that you probably want to have Microsoft Word installed on that machine. Alternately, you can have Open Office installed on that machine. Alternately, you can have Libre Office installed on that machine.

Both of those two latter options are free.

Document viewer

Also free, if you're not interested in editing the documents, is the Word viewer you can download from Microsoft. It's a program that is essentially Microsoft Word without the ability to edit anything.

It's simply a viewing program. It will allow you to view the contents of a .doc or a .docx file.

How it works

When you install any of the programs that I've just mentioned, they tell Windows, "Hey, I'm the program that knows how to handle .doc, .docx, and actually a whole bunch of other file extensions."

Once they've been installed then, when Windows Mail comes along and asks Windows, "Hey, I've got this .doc file. Do you have a program that will run it?"

Windows can say, "Yes, I have a program for you. Give me that .doc file and I will open up Microsoft Word (...for example) with that file and then the user can see it."

Mail only opens mail

That's all it really boils down to. Microsoft Mail (or for that matter any mail program) simply can't know how to open every possible document type, every possible attachment type. It relies on a program being installed on your computer that knows how to do that for you.

If there is no program that knows how to understand and how to open up those documents - well, then you can't open them up.

Article C5853 - September 26, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

September 28, 2012 1:55 PM

I'm also thinking that there might be something in the configuration of Windows Mail. I've never used it, so I can't say for certain; however, in Thunderbird, if you look in the Tools menu under Options, on the Attachments tab, you can manipulate some of the file extensions and what Thunderbird should do when it comes across those kinds of attachments in your email.

You'll want to make sure that they all do what you want them to do, or, as Leo says, asks Windows what to do.

Geoff (in the Great White North)
September 29, 2012 5:54 AM

Hi Leo
You didn't mention the free version of Kingsoft office, any experience with it?

Mark J
September 29, 2012 7:47 AM

I've tried Kingsoft. It seems to do the job pretty well. It has fewer features than Open or Libre Office, but it loads faster, so it could be a viable alternative.

Joe F
October 2, 2012 9:02 AM

Hi Leo,

You didn't mention that it could be the file associations that are messed up. Maybe reassociating .doc and .docx would fix the problem. (Not sure how to do that in Vista.)

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