Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It's tempting to try to email a copy of an application to a friend so you can share data. Unfortunately it's probably wrong, and it won't work simply.

Is it possible to send an application such as Microsoft Excel 2003 to a friend by email? I have purchased a copy of this application and want to send a copy to my sister who lives in another country, and email would be really quick and convenient. I tried using a program which allows you to send 1GB files in one email, but could only locate a shortcut for, "Excel". I know though that the program is on my computer because I can access it using the short-cut, though looking at, "Add or Remove Programs", it's not listed.

Unfortunately there are several reasons why you cannot, and should not, do what you're attempting to do.

The good news is that I do have a work-around for you, at least for Excel.

There are several reasons why what you're describing won't work.

It's illegal. What you're suggesting is actually software piracy; your sister would be getting a copy of Excel that she didn't pay for, simple as that.

Email isn't meant for huge files. Even with services that claim to be able to send large files via email, it's neither quick, or convenient. For something this large I'd personally be tempted to set up a VPN between your two machines using something like Hamachi and then just copying the file. Depending on your internet speed it'll take a looooong time - but then the same would be true for email. Other alternatives including uploading to some kind of web-based storage where she could download from, or perhaps some kind of peer-to-peer file sharing technologies .. coincidentally frequently used by software pirates as well.

"It's illegal. Email isn't meant for huge files. Excel isn't single file."

Excel isn't a single file. Applications like Excel are actually complex collections of files that are stored in various places on your computer. That's why when you purchased Excel you had to run a setup program. That program took care of putting everything where it belongs, and setting up all the appropriate registry settings. If you were to illegally share it with someone else, you would have to send everything on your installation CD.

Now, not all applications are as complex as Excel, or as large, and there are many that can be legally shared. But in general what you're looking for just isn't that simple.

So let's look at what you're really trying to do: make it possible for you and your sister to exchange, view and perhaps edit Excel spreadsheets. For this, we do have a couple of solutions.

Open Office includes an Excel-compatible equivalent. Most Open Office applications tend to be a little rough around the edges if you use esoteric features in their Microsoft Office equivalents, but for 90% of what you might want to do, it'll work just fine. Best of all, it's free and your sister can simply download it and install it herself.

Google Docs includes an on-line spreadsheet tool. You don't have to download or install anything, you simply do your spreadsheet work on the web site. It's compatible with Excel, to a point, but best of all sharing with other users, like your sister, is easy.

There are other alternatives as well, both downloadable applications as well as on-line.

But the bottom line is that sending someone an application via email is typically the wrong approach to take. If you look at the problem you're really trying to solve there are often other, easier and legal alternatives.

Article C3311 - March 6, 2008 « »

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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.

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5 Comments
Greg Bulmash
March 6, 2008 1:11 PM

Worth noting that e-mail is still text based. To send binary items (applications, videos, pictures), they have to be encoded into a text stream that's embedded into the e-mail. This generally adds 40-60% to their size. So an e-mail containing a 100k photo will generally be 150k in size.

Then on the recipient's side, their e-mail program separates out that huge chunk of text and decodes it back into its original binary format. This is HUGELY inefficient and wasteful, but for smaller files it's not that big a deal.

Additionally, to prevent getting clogged, a lot of mail servers will toss out or cut off any e-mail that's bigger than a certain size. This can range from as small as 1 or 2 megabytes to as high as 50 or 100 megabytes, but it's rare that a mail server has no upper limit.

Many of the services that promise to let you e-mail big files actually have you upload it in a binary format to their servers, then give you a link you can send to someone to let them download the file.

And to second Leo, I've been using Open Office for years. It's gotten progressively more compatible with even the more esoteric features in Microsoft Office and has most of the basics locked down very nicely.

I use Microsoft Office at work and Open Office at home and haven't run into any major conflicts or mental disconnects in quite a long time.

Simon Brew
March 8, 2008 2:37 AM

One small extra point specifially about Microsoft Office - you can download free VIEWERS for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Visio and maybe a few others from the Microsoft website. This will be perfectly adequate if your friends only need to READ/VIEW the files you send them, and not edit them.

Hugh E Torrance
March 8, 2008 2:45 AM

I recently had a 16MB Antioch 1710 old time radio file (Marco Polo) refused,so I split the file using shell toys and sent it to my brother, no problem, in two parts with the reassembler (45KB),I had to send the reassembler to his Yahoo account as Google dos,nt accept .exe files.

Rod Mitchell
March 9, 2008 4:20 AM

I have read the article and maybe don't understand it all. I just wanted to add a small comment/question following a recent job my friendly computer shop did for me. My old laptop had a Microsoft office package when it was purchased. Recent problems led me to accept advice and move to the free Openoffice suite. The man in the shop had this on his USB memory stick and loaded it in a couple of minutes from this. As no payment for use is required, I presume there is no violation of copyright terms. I was considering putting the openoffice software on my newer computer and wondered if that was possible and legal?

Ian
March 9, 2008 9:38 AM

Yes you can download Openoffice suite
as this is open source software which is free on the internet for all here is the link
http://www.openoffice.org/

good luck

bye for now

ian

keep smiling
:)
Be Happy

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