From the November 1999 issue of Startups

E-mail drove me nuts yesterday. A client requested a photo of me (to dress up a Web site), so I sent off a couple of JPG files, a standard image format. Within the hour, she was hollering, "I can't open it!" And she was grumpy that I was wasting her time sending her stuff she couldn't view, much less use.

Why couldn't she open these plain-vanilla images? Her e-mail gateway took the two JPGs and combined them into a single MIME file. If it's all geek babble to you, you're not alone: It certainly was to her, too, because she didn't have a clue how to deal with a MIME.

How often do you get e-mail attachments that are unreadable cyber mush--files that, play with them as you will, you just can't crack open. At least weekly, probably daily if you're a heavy e-mail user. You'd think there has to be a better way, and there is. An inexpensive toolkit of easy-to-use utility programs sees to it that you never again have to curse an e-mail you can't open.

Skeptical? You won't be once you install Quick View Plus (www.inso.com), a dramatically beefed up edition of the QuickView that's standard in Windows '95. It costs less than $60 at any software retailer and open hundreds of file types. You don't have to be afraid anymore of receiving an old MultiMate word-processing file, a MacWrite file, a FoxPro, a PC Paintbrush or even a TIFF file. It won't matter that you don't have the application that created the file--just click either of these utilities into use and, shazaam, the file comes into clear view, for printing or for shifting into a program you do have. It's that simple. Just click and watch the magic.

This will solve most of your problems, but add a few more utilities to your box and you can pretty much guarantee everything will open. Case in point: the free Expander from Aladdin Systems Inc. (www.aladdinsys.com) runs on both Macs and PCs--and for PC users, it's critical in opening some files Mac folks send. Get a "sit," a compressed Mac format, and it's a sure prescription for aggravation unless you've also got Expander, which opens it in a second.

Another gem is Decode Shell Extension (www.funduc.com), a freebie that--despite its formidable name--makes easy work of any attachments that come in far out codes (Base64, UUENCODE, etc). Just highlight the file name, right-click the mouse button, and this freebie opens the file into readable condition.

Add it up, and $40 means no more curses, frustration or unopened files, at least on your end. As for your clients well, send them a copy of this article next time they complain about an attachment. Maybe they'll get the hint.

Robert McGarvey works out of his home office in Santa Rosa, CA. Visit his website at: www.mcgarvey.net.