How to Preview Outlook 2007 Message Attachments

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One of the places where Outlook 2007 is a major improvement over earlier versions is the new ability to preview attachments in the Reading Pane. By previewing an attachment, I mean you can see what’s in an attachment without having to open the program the attachment works with. For example, if you send me an Excel file as an attachment, this feature allows me to take a peek at the Excel spreadsheet without having to run Excel. With previous versions of Outlook, if you wanted to view an attachment, you had to open the message, then open the attachment in the appropriate program.

Why is this new approach a big improvement? There are two reasons. First, you can preview attachments much faster and more conveniently than finding and launching the program the attachment works with, then opening the attachment in that program. Second, being able to take a quick peek at an attachment is simply a more intuitive way to do your work.

You may be curious as to how it’s possible to preview attachments without using the program the attachment works with. Outlook comes with a group of attachment previewers, which are small programs that give a basic view of the contents of an attached file without the capabilities of the full application that normally opens the file.

Outlook 2007 comes equipped with attachment previewers for major Microsoft Office files, as well as common image and text file types. Beyond what’s provided by Microsoft, some other companies have also created attachment previewers for their own file types that you can download. In other words, for most of the attachments you’re likely to receive, you should already have, or be able to get, an attachment previewer that will let you preview it without leaving Outlook.

Once the attachment previewer you need is installed, using it is easy. When a message containing an attachment is visible in the Reading Pane, Outlook displays a group of buttons at the top of the pane. The Message button shows you the body of the message when clicked. Along with the Message button, each attachment has its own button, showing the name of the attached file.

The button you click determines what appears in the Reading Pane. Click Message to see the contents of the email message. Click an attachment’s button to get a preview of that attachment. Now remember that the preview of an attachment isn’t guaranteed to look exactly the same as it would if you opened it in the program it normally works with (an Excel spreadsheet in Excel, for example). Even so, you’ll likely find attachment previewers to be quite useful if you receive lots of messages with attachments.

For more information on using attachment previewers, including a number of additional previewer oddities and gotchas, visit


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