Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Cannot open attachment…help!

A frustrating error occurs when Windows does not recognize the type of file you are trying to open, that reads “Windows cannot open this file:”
It may help you to understand that what causes this is when the file was created with a program that is not installed on your machine. It does not mean the file is not Open-able.

Today’s topic was inspired by a college professor, who received two writing assignments from students as email attachments. [A brief aside: it is simply amazing what is available to us in the form of the e-classroom. If you have a crazy schedule, and there simple isn’t time to further your education, consider taking online courses. A good place to start looking is your local Junior College.] One student sent him a .mdi file and the other sent him a .docx file. When he tried to open them, he received the message shown above, and asked for my help in opening them.

Tip of the day: Use the Internet to identify attachment file types, and find out what it would take to open them. I mentioned in an earlier article, files are identified by a “dot-three-letters” file “extension” (for a more detailed description, click here). This tells your O/S what program created the file so that it can launch the same program to work with it. I will mention again; the place to go when you receive (or come across) a file extension you simply don’t recognize is a website called FILExt.

The professor had assigned a writing assignment, and since he has Microsoft Office and the lesser-known Word Perfect installed on his machine, he was surprised at his inability to open a text document (and doubly surprised when it happened twice). The second file — the .docx — I easily recognized as the new Word format. The new Microsoft Office 2007 suite has modernized, and uses a XML-based format now, and older versions (Office 97 – 2003) of Word will not recognize, or be able to Open, files of this type.
The solution, in this case was to (somehow) upgrade his Office suite to 2007, or ask the student to re-submit the document using Word 2007’s ability to Save As in the older format. I advised him to download and install the free 60-day trial of Office 2007, and to consider purchasing a license for it. (The download is the full suite; it just has a time-limited license.) By doing this, he would also be able to open the second file. [update: for more on Office 2007, and to download the free conversion toolkit, called a “Compatibility Pack” (for owners of older versions of Office), click here.]

I did not immediately recognize the .mdi file extension, and so (since I had it already open) entered “open .mdi” into Google’s search box. It turns out that the student had — instead of simply Save-ing the document — “printed” it to Word 2003’s ‘virtual printer’, Microsoft Document Image Writer. This tool is usually used in conjunction with a scanner, and allows for OCR. You don’t typically run across too many .mdi files…
The professor took my advice, and was able to open both documents using the newly installed Word 2007.

If you refer back to the error message shown above, you will see that by default Windows offer you a choice; allow it to search online for a way to open the file (this rarely works), or select a program — from the programs you have installed — to use to try to force it open (this also rarely works). It will not hurt you, and there is a chance of success, to go ahead and accept the first option.
And then go to FILExt.

Today’s free link: If you use IM and use multiple services… and you frequently use different computers… you should know about Meebo. Meebo allows you to use a web browser to log into and use AIM, Messenger, Yahoo, and GoogleTalk. Quick, simple, and easy… and nothing to install.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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October 17, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, MS Word, PC, tech, Windows, word processors | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment