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Message attachments can be formatted in a variety of ways. The two most typical and broadly supported formats are MIME and Uuencode, but it is also possible to attach a file to a message using Unicode as the formatting.
Unfortunately, while Unicode solves some problems raised by MIME and Uuencode, it creates others -- many mail clients simply can't read it. The problem is generally not the size of the attachment (this has been witnessed with attachments as small as 100K), but the encoding.
One example of such problems is with SQL Server 2000's SQL Mail, which can generate e-mails automatically and is one of a number of programs that renders attachments in Unicode.
If you are using Outlook Web Access or BlackBerry mobile devices, you'll be able to receive such a message -- but the attachment will not open.
However, if you forward the message and attachment to your regular Microsoft Outlook client, you will be able to open the attachment, since Outlook properly recognizes Unicode as an attachment format.
If you have a great many people on clients that don't recognize Unicode attachments (yet) and you need a workaround, take a look at whatever you're using to generate the attachments.
For instance, in the above example, you might want to switch from SQL Server's mail functions to a standalone system like blat, which can transmit attachments using more conventional encodings.
This may require a little more work on your end, but it'll spare your end users the hassle of having to pass a message back and forth just to open it completely.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.
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This was first published in January 2006