Outlook logoMicrosoft Outlook is probably the most used, most reliable, and best featured Windows based email program available. However, it does occasionally have problems opening. It will either open the “splash screen” (the blue screen that identifies it while it is opening the rest of the program) and get no further, or it won’t even show the splash screen. Note that we are talking about the desktop program called Outlook: not the web-based “Outlook.com”.

Quite often, such problems are a one-off. Once resolved, they don’t recur. More annoyingly, they might recur but it’s so long since the last time it went wrong that you can’t remember how to resolve the problem.

The first suggestion below just looks to see if Outlook has “got stuck”. In this case, Outlook won’t open now because it didn’t close properly the last time you had it open. So, we just force it to close and then it will probably open again normally the next time and thereafter.

If that doesn’t work, we then go on to “repairing” the program using one of two inbuilt methods. This is quite straightforward and doesn’t involve any loss of data or re-entering of account information. Remembering where to look for the instructions to carry out the repair can be a bit trickier (so just remember where you found this post!). There are two “levels” of repair. From a user point of view, they are each as easy as the other to carry out, but the second is more thorough, takes longer, and requires an internet connection throughout. So, we start by seeing if the quicker method works and only go on to the slower method if we need to.

Forcing a previous instance to close

  • Depress Control, Shift, and Escape. This will open Task Manager.
  • In the window that opens, if it says “More Details” in the bottom left corner, then click on that text.
  • On the tabs at the top of the window, ensure that “Processes” is selected.
  • Ensure that the table is sorted alphabetically by name by clicking on the word “name” at the top of the column of process names.
  • Highlight any item that includes the word “Outlook” and then click on “end task” at the bottom right of the window.
  • Go right through the list of processes in case there are several that mention Outlook. Make sure to end them all.
  • Close the Task Manager window.
  • Try to start Outlook in the normal way.
TaskManager - Outlook

In Task Manager, ensure that the “Processes” tab is selected, that the items are in “Name” order, then click on “Microsoft Outlook” and then click on “End task” at the bottom right of the window.

If that doesn’t do the trick, or if the problem keeps recurring, then “repair” Outlook as follows:

  • Open the control panel. From the Windows “Start” menu, just start typing “control panel” until it is offered as an “app” to open.
  • If the top righthand corner of the Control Panel indicates “View by: Category”, then click on the “Programs” option in the main part of the window.
  • Click on “Programs and Features”.
  • If you are using Office 365, look for the item called “Microsoft 365 – en-us” and left-click on it. If you are using Outlook as a standalone program or as part of a purchased Office suite of programs (eg Office 2013), then look for either the suite name or “Outlook” and left-click on it.
  • Above the list of programs, click on “Change”.
  • Confirm that you wish to change or uninstall an application.
  • Select the “Quick Repair” option and click on “Repair”.
  • Follow the screen prompts.
Change Program

With Office 365, repairing Outlook involves highlighting “Microsoft 365 – en-us” and clicking on “Change”

If that doesn’t work, repeat the instructions for “repairing”, but this time take the “online repair” option.

At a guess, the above three suggestions probably resolve about 95% of issues opening Outlook, but if they all fail then some serious troubleshooting is called for. You know where I am…

Outlook Search may be good at finding things – but not so good at telling you WHERE it found them

Outlook Search

Figure 1.

If you have a lot of email folders in your Outlook and can’t find something that you are sure is there, then using the Search function with the scope set to either Current Mailbox (to search all folders for the currently selected email address) or All Mailboxes (to search all folders of all email addresses) will probably find it (as long as you type something sensible as the search term) – see Figure 1.

Once you have found it, it is then easy to double-click on the message in the list of results. It will open as you would expect and you may be relieved to have retrieved it. If it was mis-filed, it’s only natural to want to move it from its current folder into the correct one. And here’s where the fun begins…. how on earth do you find out where it’s currently filed? The natural thing to do is to right-click somewhere, to get a “Properties” option, but there isn’t a context menu or option for this. This strikes me as a peculiar omission – especially in a program that’s been around as long as Outlook has. Never mind, though, we can find the answer by coming at it from a different angle.

Outlook Message Properties

Figure 2.

The quickest place to start is by clicking Alt Enter either when looking at the email in a list of search results, or when looking at the content of the email itself. In either case, this will open a window of properties for the current item. The folder in which the message is stored is shown next to “Location” (see figure 2). However, it doesn’t give any indication as to where that folder sits in the hierarchy of your email folders.

If you know exactly where that folder is (and if the name is unique within your email structure), then that’s it. You can navigate to that folder in the normal way and drag-and-drop the message into the folder you expected it to be in before you had to search for it.

Outlook Advanced Find

Figure 3.

But suppose, for instance, that you have folders for each of 200 clients and each of those has a sub-folder called “Orders”, then being told by the “Alt Enter” method above that the message is in “Orders” doesn’t really help very much.

So, to find out exactly which “Orders” sub-folder it is in, we have to be a little devious:

  • Open the message in its own window (eg by double-clicking on it in a list of search results)
  • Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl Shift f to open “Advanced Find”
  • Click on Browse (see figure 3) and you will see the current folder (ie where the message currently resides) within the hierarchy of your email folders

Outlook Folders in Advanced Find

Figure 4.

You can now see exactly which folder the message is currently hiding in. Once again, you can now navigate to that folder in the usual way and drag-and-drop the message into the folder you expected it to be in before you had to search for it. See figure 4.

Microsoft Outlook and Windows File Explorer can sort data on more than one column

Filing CabinetsIn Outlook, you can sort the display of emails on any column simply by clicking on the column name – eg clicking on “Subject” above the column of the email subject headings will sort on that column. Clicking on it again will sort in the opposite direction (eg going from A-Z and vice versa). You can click on the name of any column that is visible and Outlook will sort on that column.

But what happens if you want to sort on two – or more – columns?

For instance, I have many different backup routines, each of which sends me an email when it completes. I have a “rule” in Outlook that automatically puts all these emails in a single folder. Now, it would be just too tedious to bother actually reading all these emails every day and checking that one is received every day that one should be received, so I want a simple way of sorting the emails so that all emails with the same name (ie the same backup routine) come together in the listing and that they are further sorted so that newer emails are listed above older ones. It is then simple to cast an eye down the list of emails from time to time to see when backups did (or didn’t) happen (see illustration below).

Outlook - email sorted on two levels

Outlook – an example of an email listing sorted on two levels

There must be many instances where a sorting of one column within another such as this would be useful. In the above example, the emails are sorted on Received (descending) within Subject (ascending), but any combination, involving up to four sort levels, is possible in Outlook.

To sort the contents of an email folder on more than one level in Outlook:

  • Click on the View tab
  • Click on View Settings
  • Click on Sort
  • Click the first listed field under “Sort items by” and select the field for the first sort level
  • Click the radio button next to Ascending or Descending as appropriate
  • Click the second box and select the second sort field and the sort order
  • Continue as above for any further sort levels
  • Click on OK and then on OK again to close the dialogue boxes
Outlook - sorting emails

In Outlook, you can sort emails on up to four levels

The sort settings for the folder will be remembered such that each time this email folder is opened the contents will be sorted in the same way until you instruct otherwise.

Sorting files on more than one level in File Explorer

This one’s easy – but not at all self-evident. The first sort level is achieved by just clicking on the column name. You will then see a “v” or inverted “v” next to the heading on which the sort applies. If you want to reverse the sort order, just click on the column name again. To create a second sort level, depress the shift key and (while the shift key is still depressed) click on the second column heading. There is no visible indicator on the column headings to show that you are sorting on more than one column but it does work (see the illustration below).

File Explorer listing example

A File Explorer listing sorted on two levels (Date modified within Type)

PS: When I use the word “Outlook”, I mean the email program that is part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs – not any other email facility of Microsoft to which they have confusingly applied this name.

Most people these days have several email accounts

Locked mailboxTypically, most people have one or more “proper” accounts and one or more accounts that are used for less important stuff and for situations where they have been compelled to give an email address but haven’t wanted to give their “proper” one (perhaps because of fears of getting “spammed”).

It can be rather tedious having to log onto several different webmail sites to check all these accounts separately – especially if it’s just on the off-chance that there’s something new and important to be read. One of the benefits of using an email “client” (as opposed to using webmail) is the ability to add all your email accounts to the same place so that you can check all accounts at the same time instead of having to log onto different webmail sites.

Gmail iconHowever, if you try to add your Gmail account or your Yahoo account to Outlook or Thunderbird then it probably won’t work (initially). What’s more, you don’t get any proper indication as to why it doesn’t work. Instead, you will get misleading error messages suggesting that either your username or your password is incorrect. You may not even discover the reason by looking for help on the email provider’s website. Perhaps I should clarify that “Outlook” in this context means the email program from Microsoft and not the webmail service called Outlook.com.

The reason it won’t work is almost certainly that your webmail provider thinks that the email program that you are using is “less secure” than using webmail and that it won’t allow the connection to be made until you explicitly instruct the webmail provider to connect your account to programs such as Outlook.

Yahoo Mail iconThe way that you do this is by opening up your webmail and looking in “Settings” (or “Options”) for a setting that says something to the effect of “allow less secure applications to access your email”. I know that this is the case for both Yahoo and Gmail and suspect that it may apply to other webmail setups. Below are instructions for changing the settings in Yahoo and Gmail. Hopefully, if you use a different webmail service, there is enough information here for Yahoo and Gmail for you to be able to find the equivalent setting in your own setup. After you have changed this setting, then go back to Outlook (or Thunderbird or whatever) and try again to set the account up there. It should then connect with no further bother.

In Yahoo, log into your webmail as normal and then:

  • Click on the cogwheel located at top right of your Yahoo webmail screen
  • Click on “Account Info”
  • Click on “Account Security” at the left of the screen
  • Jump through any security hoops that it sets up for you (such as making near impossible decisions about which squares on an image “include traffic signs”)
  • Go down to the last item on the screen (“Allow apps that use less secure sign in”) and slide the switch to the “on” position
  • Go back to Outlook (or Thundebird or whatever) and enter the account info again

In Gmail, log into your webmail in the normal way and then:

  • Click on the Settings cogwheel (near top right of screen)
  • Click on the “Settings” option
  • Click on the tab marked “Forwarding and POP/IMAP”
  • Under “IMAP access”, click the circle next to “Enable IMAP”
  • At the bottom of the list of options, click on “Save changes”
  • Go back to Outlook (or Thunderbird or whatever) and enter the account info again

Are you getting warnings from Outlook that your data file is almost full?

BurstingThis blog is prompted by a situation encountered by three of my computer support clients in the last six months. If you use Microsoft Outlook for your email, you may just start getting a warning that your data file is nearly full. Let’s be clear, here. I am talking about the proper Microsoft Outlook program. I am not talking about the email program built into Winows 10. I can not imagine why Microsoft use the same name for completely different products, but that’s not the issue here. Also, this blog post only applies to Outlook as used in Windows (not Macs).

If you do encounter this warning, then the chances are that you have been using Outlook for many years and have carried forward an old format of “pst” file into newer versions of Outlook. The older “ansi” format of file can only hold 2gb of data. The newer “unicode” format can hold 20gb of data – and even more if you make a couple of small changes to the registry.

: if you are going to carry out these changes, then please back up your email data first – see the end of this blog post for details.

The way to check whether your pst file is of the older format is as follows in Oulook 2016 (I think 2010 and 2013 are the same):

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Highlight the data file in question (you may have only one)
  • Click on “settings”
  • If the “format” entry just says “Outlook data file” then you have the newer, Unicode, format that can contain 20gb
  • If the “format” entry includes any reference to earlier versions of Office (eg 1997) then your file is subject to the 2gb limit

Outlook logoThere is no way of making the older “ansi format” file bigger and there is no utility provided by Microsoft (or anyone else, as far as I know) that will move your data to a file of the newer format. You could delete redundant items from your “pst” file and this would at least buy you some time before applying a better solution If you do this, you must then “compact” the file so that you actually regain the space created by deleting items. To do this:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Highlight the data file in question (you may have only one)
  • Click on “settings”
  • Click on “Compact now”

The permanent solution, however, is to create a new file (which will automatically be of the newer, Unicode, format) and move your data to the new file. To do this:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Click on “Add” and name your new file
  • Copy and paste the emails and folders from the old file to the new

You then need to instruct Outlook as to the folder in the new file that will receive new data (ie the inbox):

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Email” tab
  • If necessary, click on the email account that will be delivering email to the new file
  • Click on “Change Folder” and point Outlook to the Inbox of the new data file

Outlook data file settings

The “settings” window includes the “Compact Now” button. The “Format” info indicates this is a new, Unicode, file.

If you use the Outlook calendar, then this will also probably be a part of your outgrown “pst” file. You could leave it there and have both the old and the new “pst” files open in Outlook. If you choose to do that, then I would definitely recommend deleting all of the email in the old file that you have now copied to the new data file, as life could become confusing if you have multiple copies of your stored email folders and contents. The alternative is to copy the calendar from the old pst file to the new. This is fine unless you have used Outlook’s “categories” to differentiate between calendar items. Copying a calendar to a new pst file will cause these categorie to be lost unless you have re-created the categories in the new pst file.

Please, please make sure you back up your pst file(s) before starting this process. You can find out where your data files are located as follows:

  • Click on the “File” command
  • Click on “info” in the lefthand column
  • Click on “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Account Settings” that has now popped up directly below the previous “Account Settings”
  • Click on the “Data files” tab
  • Click on “File location”

Please note, though, that you can not copy (back up) your data files while Outlook is open. You need to take a note of where the files are located and then close Outlook before attempting to back them up.

I recommend also looking at:


Have you noticed an increase in foreign spam recently?

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logoDuring the last month or two I have become aware of a huge increase in the amount of spam getting into my inbox from abroad. Not only is a lot of it not in English, but a lot of it even uses different character sets (such as Chinese characters).

To begin with, I kept asking myself why someone in China would want to spam me in a way that couldn’t possibly benefit them, but then I worked out that it’s probably just the same economics that make any type of spamming worth doing. What it boils down to is that the variable cost of sending a single spam email is almost zero. So much of this is so automated to set up (and virtually costless to distribute) that the only measurable cost of sending spam to 1000 email addresses is the cost of acquiring the addresses. Does it really matter if the response rate is measured in fractions of one percent if the cost of achieving that response rate is even closer to nothing?

Anyway, analysing the economics doesn’t stop the rubbish from pouring in. What can you do about it? Well, if you use what is probably the best email program out there – Microsoft Outlook – then you can block a lot of it from reaching your inbox. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The wording in the Outlook program suggests that you are “blocking” email from reaching you, but in fact it is still being delivered – it just gets automatically diverted away from your inbox and into your Junk folder.

Outlook 2013 Junk Mail Option

Click on the area circled in red to get to the Junk Mail Options menu

This won’t help at all if you don’t use Outlook and it won’t help if you collect your email on several devices – most of them not employing Outlook. Nevertheless, it seems that a lot of people work like me and have one computer, running Outlook, that is the “main hub” of their email activity, so keeping this one email “centre” clean of foreign spam might be worth a few minutes of effort.

So, how do we filter foreign email in Outlook? The example here uses Outlook 2013 but I don’t suppose the earlier versions are very different:

  • Go to the Home tab and click on the icon of the head and shoulders in the Delete group
  • Left-click on the last item in the menu that pops up (Junk Email Options)
  • Left-click on the International tab at the top of the window that has just opened

Blocked Top-Level Domain List

Outlook 2013 Blocked Top-Level Domain ListClicking on this option allows you to block all email that comes from an address that ends in the country code of the place you wish to block. So, for instance, if the sender’s email address is fred@mydomain.af and you have blocked email from Afghanistan’s top-level domain then Fred’s email will be blocked. Note that Fred’s email would not be blocked if his address didn’t end in “.af”, so mail from fred@spamsarus.com would get through even if the email originated in Afghanistan.

It takes a minute or two to work through the list, so it might be quicker to click on the “select all” button and then individually un-select the ones you don’t wish to block.

I’ve done a bit of research to see if adding an email address to your “safe senders” list would take precedence over blocking an entire country’s top-level domain. I couldn’t find a definitive answer so you would need to test it if you wanted, for instance, just one individual email address in India to get through to you.

Blocked Encoding List

Outlook 2013 Blocked Encodings ListThis option doesn’t block email addresses from specific countries, or even block email written in different languages. What it does do, however, is block email written in specific “character sets”. For example, there are two sets of Chinese letters (Traditional and Simplified) that you can block. As another example, you can also block all email written in the Syrillic script.

It would be easy to argue that these filters could be made more sophsiticated, but they are definitely better than nothing. In my own case, I think that the ten minutes I spent setting them up will be more than repaid by not needing to manually delete this foreign spam – especially if the current trend for increasing foreign spam continues.

As a Computer Consultant discussing client’s systems, programs and computing choices, it often strikes me that Microsoft have created a lot of confusion by using the word “Outlook” in the names of three different email products. This confusion is particularly marked, of course, if I’m providing telephone support on one of the “Outlooks” but the client is talking about one product and I’m thinking of another. There’s no point in my asking “which Outlook are you using?” because it would be unreasonable to expect the client to know of all these different animals and to know which one of the three they are using. So, I usually have to ask things like “what does it say on the icon you click to get your email”. Thank goodness for remote control support where I can see what the client can see.

So, let’s just see if we can clarify the situation:

Outlook Express

Outlook Express 6 logoThis was the free email program that formed part of the Windows package right up to, and including, Windows XP. It developed into different versions right up to version 6.

Outlook Express was a program installed on the user’s computer. It provided the functionality to send and receive emails and to store them on the user’s computer. It also had a “newsreader” but I’m not bothered about that as I don’t think I ever came across anyone using it. Email programs (also called email “clients”) need to be set up with the information relating to the user’s email account (such as the names of the email servers, username and password, what type of security there is, and so forth).

Outlook Express was succeeded in 2005 by Windows Mail. Windows Mail came as part of the Windows Vista program. Windows Mail was then superceded by Windows Live Mail. So, for anyone who used Outlook Express in years gone by, the natural successor is now Windows Live Mail. A difference between the two is that the user has to download the Windows Live Mail program (it’s part of the free suite of programs called Windows Essentials). This difference is not caused by technical considerations, but is a result of Microsoft being hauled before the European monopolies authorities. Microsoft had to agree to supply its email program separate from Windows as the bureaucrats decreed that Microsoft had an unfair advantage over other email programs if they installed their own program automatically with Windows. Has it made any difference? I doubt it. It’s very rare, indeed, that I come across anyone using a rival product such as Thunderbird.


Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo.

Like Outlook Express, Outlook is an email program (aka a “an email client”). However, it is not a free product either as part of a version of Windows or as a separate download. It is a paid-for program that is more robust and much better featured than Windows Live Mail. It comes as part of the Microsoft Office Small Business suite of programs or on its own. Microsoft Outlook costs about £110 when bought on its own.

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far if I suggest that Outlook is the most popular email program for organisations. If you are thinking of buying it, it costs the same to buy on its own as the difference in price between the Office Small Business package and the Office Home and Student package. Click this link for a comparison of Microsoft Office products.


Outlook.com logoThen the marketing bods at Microsoft seem to have had a collective brainstorm. They announced a web-based email facility that they chose to call Outlook.com. I have no idea why they chose to call a product after a website and I have no idea why they chose to confuse everybody by using the term “Outlook” again, meaning something completely different this time. See this link for more information on Outlook.com.

So, Outlook.com works like a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo account in that you access it via a web browser. All you need to know to access your email is your username and password. Accessing email this way has the advantages that you can access your email from any computer and your data is stored on the server so you don’t need to back it up. The main disadvantages of web-based email are that it can be slower to access, and the functionality of the program is usually simpler than with an email client. To use the vernacular, web-based email is a bit clunky.

So, there you have it, three different approaches to email, all using the same name.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall of a Microsoft marketing meeting…. on second thoughts, maybe I wouldn’t.

Recently, I decided to tidy up my Outlook email folders

Microsoft Outlook 2010 logo

Outlook 2010 logo

This entailed moving lots of sub-folders between folders. You can move a folder (or sub-folder – which simply means a folder that is within another folder) either by “cutting and pasting” it or by simply dragging it from one location to another. The latter is usually easier, but if the list of folders that you have to “drag past” is longer than the screen height available then you have to drag the folder to the bottom of screen and then hope you can keep control as the list of folders scrolls upwards in front of your eyes. Tricky to explain and even trickier to perform.

Exactly the same thing applies, of course, if you need to drag upwards past the top of the screen rather than down past the bottom. The speed at which the column scrolls down or up is, I think, a function of exactly where you stop moving the folder being dragged and also a function of just how long the column is that is being scrolled. All of this makes dragging a folder past the top or bottom of the screen a bit of a hairy process. It’s very easy to let go of the mouse button at the wrong moment – dropping the folder in the wrong place.

If this only happened when moving folders around in Outlook then I wouldn’t bother telling you all this, but it also happens in other programs, so this bit of advice will, hopefully, have wider use (in Windows Explorer, for instance).

So, is there an easier way to re-organise files and folders when the list is longer than the screen?

Well, the answer seems to be “maybe” – depending on the program you are using. If you can open two windows, side by side, with each showing the same thing, then there is probably an easier way:

  • Start in the “destination” window by displaying the part of the list where you wish to deposit the folder (or file)
  • Click on the other window and navigate to the folder (or file) to be moved
  • Drag the folder or file across the boundary between the two windows and let go at the appropriate position

2 Microsoft Outlook Windows side by side

It is easier to drag between windows than dragging off the bottom of a single window.

Using this method, the scrolling to the destination has been completely separated from the dragging of the file/folder. Much easier. It probably wouldn’t be worth setting up windows side by side if you are only intending to move one or two folders or files around, but it’s definitely worth it if you are doing some more substantial re-organising.

How do you open the second window?

  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Right-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)
  • Left-click on the program name that appears in the list


  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Shift-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo. Why did they change it from yellow to blue?

Whether you can open the same program in two different windows at the same time seems to depend on the program. The above works for Outlook, but I couldn’t get Windows Mail to open in two different windows. Every time I tried to open a second window, the focus (ie the cursor) just moved into the existing window. I wondered if it would work in Gmail (webmail), but you can’t drag anything out of the original window.

I haven’t yet experimented to see if this tip is useful when using a Mac, but it’s my guess that it’s likely to be useful in that parallel universe also.

By the way, at the same time as playing around with multiple windows, I also had another look to see if there is any way of selecting more than one folder at once in Outlook so that they could be moved in a single action. Not only could I not find a method, but I came across a special utility that appears to be written solely to solve this problem. This suggests, of course, that there isn’t an obvious method within Outlook that I am missing. The utility can be found at http://pandali.com/pfm.html. It costs $29 but there’s a 30 day free trial.

One more tip when cleaning up Outlook folders

If you wish to delete a complete folder of emails in Outlook then the program gets a bit solicitous and asks whether you are sure. This can get tedious after a while so, if you are doing a major clean-up involving the deletion of lots of folders then a more efficient way is to drag those folders into a special folder (that I call “Doomed” because it sounds so wonderfully dramatic – yes, I need to get out more). When the re-organising is complete, just delete the “Doomed” folder. That way, you only need to confirm the action once. This tip would also work when cleaning up normal files and folders in Windows Explorer.

Have you ever had trouble sending a large email attachment? If you try to send an attachment that is too big then you may find that it bounces back to you (ie you receive a message saying that the message could not be delivered). The limiting factor may be in the recipient’s email system or in a system that the email (with attachment) has passed through on the way to the recipient.

You are not likely to encounter this problem if you are just sending average-sized spreadsheets, word processing documents or pdf files, but “media files” such as video clips, sound files, and many high-resolution picture files can very easily be far too big to send as attachments.

Large AttachmentsHow do I know the size of an attachment? This depends on the email system you are using. In Hotmail, for example, after you have added the attachment to the email you can hover your mouse over the attachment and a small box will pop up that includes the file size (eg 273kb). With most other systems the size of the attachment is shown in brackets after the name of the attachment.

What is the maximum size of an attachment? Hotmail is supposed to be able to receive 10mb attachments, Yahoo and Gmail have a limit of 25mb. These are all webmail systems. If you are using POP-based email (eg you check your email using Outlook or Windows Live Mail) then there is probably a limit set by the email servers you are using. If you have your own domain name then you are probably using your domain host’s email servers. Otherwise, you will be using your ISP’s servers. The limit they impose can be as low as 5mb. Also, the theoretical limit of a Gmail attachment is 25mb but the actual file sent through cyberspace is larger than your original file by up to about 20% so Gmail’s actual maximum is probably nearer to 20mb. Anyway, even if you know the limits of your own system, that doesn’t help in telling you what your correspondent can receive as that depends on their system rather than yours. Personally, I would not assume that an attachment of over 5mb is going to go through without trouble. I always check with the recipient that they have received anything I have sent bigger than 5mb. Note: there are 1024kb in 1mb, so if your attachment size is expressed in kb rather than mb then anything less than about 5000kb is less than 5mb and will probably be delivered without problem.

What can I do if my attachment is too big? There are several options:

  • split the file up into smaller pieces. There is software available for splitting and rejoining files. I don’t recommend this method.
  • compress the file into a (smaller) zip file. This can work very well for some file types (eg tif files) but not have very much effect on others (eg jpg picture files, that are already optimised for the trade-off between size and quality). Zip files are a good idea, by the way, if you are sending many attachments as they can all be sent in one zip file for unpacking at the recipient’s end.
  • use an online service such as www.goaruna.com

Using GoAruna, you don’t even have to register if you just wish to send a single file. All you need to do is enter your own and the recipient’s email addresses and upload the file you wish to attach. The recipient is then sent an email with a link so that they can download the file. Although there is a time limit (seven days) on the availability of the download, this method does have the advantage that the download is under the control of the recipient. This can be better than having their email system tied up while a large attachment download takes place (although this is becoming less important as internet connections become faster). A single file sent this way by GoAruna can be up to 100mb. By registering with Aruna, you can also have 2gb of online storage. This can be used for backups and/or making files available to other people that may otherwise have needed to be sent as email attachments. Note: just as there are 1024kb in 1mb, there are 1024mb in 1gb.

There are other services similar to GoAruna. You may like to look at these:


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Computer Support in London
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