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Tech Tip #1: The Case of the Vanishing Inline Attachments

As many of you know, in addition to being a frustrated artist and author, I toil for minor ducats during the daylight hours as the head of Desktop Support for a company that shall (at least within the confines of this blog) remain nameless.  In my capacity as such, I often encounter users with PEST (Persistent, Easily-Solved Troubles). These PESTs are not really complicated to address, but do take up a fair amount of the Help Desk traffic that comes my way, and wreak havoc on my ability to achieve Ascendancy in Guild Wars complete important Desktop Support asset management paperwork. For some issues, I’ve actually taken the time to create user guides that I (or the Help Desk) can distribute to the troubled users, empowering them to solve their problem quickly (and permanently) while freeing me up for other tasks, such as the aforementioned paperwork, creating project plans, and napping.

One PEST of particularly pernicious persistence (can I get a what-what for alliteration, word nerds?) has to do with Microsoft Outlook. With approximately 500 users to support here at headquarters, as well as a few thousand more scattered at the company’s domestic and international locations, we get a lot of support tickets dealing with e-mail. Most of these are two-second fixes, e.g.:

REMOTE USER: My e-mail is broken, and I shall hurl myself from the nearest precipice if you don’t fix it right now. NOW! Is it fixed? FIX IT!

YOURS TRULY: Um, okay, let’s all calm down, shall we? First of all, are you connected to the network?

REMOTE USER: Oh. Never mind.

And so on.

However, some problems require a little more finesse to resolve, and one of them has to do with inline attachments. With so many people sending information back and forth in the form of spreadsheets, presentations and grammatically challenged animals of terminally saccharine cuteness, many, many, MANY of the users work directly in their e-mail, editing attachments “on the fly” and then sending them on their way.

What many of these users don’t realize is that every time they open an attachment, a doppelganger of that file is created in what is known as the Outlook Secure Temp folder. This doesn’t matter so much if you’re not working with the files, but are instead saving out your attachments. However, since most of the user base here works directly inside of Outlook, what they’re really working with is the “working copy” Outlook generates, and as a result, many of them “lose” their files after they save and close them, and then we in Desktop Support have to muck about showing them how to find their Outlook Secure Temp Folder so they can retrieve their document (although opening “recent documents” inside most Office apps will retrieve them, I usually don’t get the call until they’ve worked on seventy-three other documents in a dozen other places, neatly eliminating any chance of simply going to File> in the menu bar).

In addition to losing their attachments, some users have so many attachments that they open so frequently that their Outlook Secure Temp folder becomes full and chokes when asked to open attachments or (more commonly) display inline attachments, e.g. the cute little fluffy bunny wishing you Happy Easter/the political cartoons your brother-in-law forwarded, LMAO/images from the last sales meeting where that one guy from sales gave the manager the bird, displayed as part of the message rather than discrete attachments.

So how do you fix this? What if you open your latest LOLZ-laden missive only to discover that, although you can see the text warning you to forward the message to a dozen people or your genitalia will blacken and drop off, you can’t see the totally HILARIOUS/inspirational/mind-searingly gross images?

Well, bub, you’re SOL.

Kidding! There’s an easy fix, and although it takes some tinkering in the registry, the effort is worth it if you’re going to persist in your ridiculous need to work directly with attachments, rather than saving them and working from the master copy like a sane person.

Seriously, kids, just save out your attachments. It’s easier in the long run and saves aggravation all around.

But you’re not here to listen to advice, are you? You’re here to find the band-aid for your boo-boo. Onward ho!

Before we begin, one caveat:

THIS TIP INVOLVES MONKEYING ABOUT WITH THE REGISTRY, ALSO KNOWN AS THE BRAIN OF WINDOWS. IF YOU DORK THIS UP, YOUR COMPUTER WILL MOST LIKELY BECOME A VERY ATTRACTIVE PAPERWEIGHT UNTIL YOU REBUILD THE SYSTEM. IF YOU HAVE THE SLIGHTEST DISCOMFORT WITH WORKING IN THE REGISTRY, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. IF YOU HAVE EVER USED YOUR CD-ROM TRAY AS A CUPHOLDER, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. IF YOU HAVE EVER, EVEN IN JEST, ASKED “WHERE’S THE ‘ANY’ KEY?”, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. IF, WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “REGISTRY,” YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IS OF THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB AND NOT THE COMPUTER, CALL I.T. IMMEDIATELY AND SIT QUIETLY BY YOURSELF UNTIL HELP ARRIVES. IF YOU SCREW UP, THAT’S ON YOU, BECAUSE I GAVE YOU FAIR WARNING.*

SERIOUSLY. I MEAN IT. THIS IS SOME HARD-CORE SHIT, YO.**

*I am horrified to realize that this is the same argument used by Big Tobacco. My soul hurts.
**OK, that sounds gross (“I don’t even remember eating corn!”), but you know what I mean.

There. Now that we have that out of the way, we can proceed.

OK, so let’s say you’ve received a critically important e-mail from accounting, with screenshots of some arcane process that could very well determine whether your budget is approved this year or if you’ll be sharpening both ends of the pencil and sitting on an orange crate during meetings. However, all the screenshots are big boxes with a little red “x” in the upper left-hand corner! OH NO!!! Your precious budget! Who will pay for the Panera bagels at the Friday morning meeting now???

You, my friend, have a full Outlook Secure Temp folder. However, there’s an easy way to address this (please note that these instructions are only for users of Outlook, and not Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Groupwise, Reanimated Passenger Pigeon zombies, et hoc genus omne).

STEP ONE: Make sure Outlook is NOT open.

STEP TWO: Navigate somewhere easy to access on your system, like your My Documents folder, or the root of C, for example.

That's right, the root of C
Let's make a folder!

STEP THREE: Right-click and create a new folder. Name this folder whatever you like (I recommend “Outlook Temp Folder,” but feel free to call it “Lucretia” or “Mail Stuff” or “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T DELETE THIS” if you like). This folder is critical to our success later in the process, so remember where you made it. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will be creating the folder on the root of C: and calling it “OutlookTemp.”

Right-click to make it happen, Cap'n.
Right-click to make it happen, Cap'n
Behold - OutlookTemp!
Behold - OutlookTemp!

STEP FOUR: Go to Start>Run, and enter “regedit” (without the quotes). Then click “OK.”

Just type it in and go!
Just type it in and go!

STEP FIVE: See the warning above. Seriously, kids, don’t poke about in here lightly. After confirming that you’re down with doing brain surgery on your PC, hit CTRL+F on the keyboard. This will bring up the “Find” dialog box.

STEP SIX: In the dialog box, type “OutlookSecureTempFolder” without the quotes and click “Find Next.”

Hide and seek, Bill Gates style.
Hide and seek, Bill Gates style.

STEP SEVEN: Ok, here’s where it gets a little tricky, kids. Double-click on the highlighted “OutlookSecureTempFolder.” The string editor dialog box will appear.

STEP EIGHT: In the “Value Data” field, enter the path of the folder you created in Step One. In my case, I entered “C:\OutlookTemp”, again with no quotes. Click OK, then close Registry Editor. Change your pants if necessary.

Where'd we put that folder again? Oh, right.

STEP EIGHT: Restart Outlook and open your previously dorked-up budget message. If things went as they should, you can now see your attachments! Huzzah! Gold-plated executive pencil holders for all!

Why did we do this? It’s simple, really. The normal location of the OutlookSecureTempFolder, er, folder is hidden from prying eyes and difficult to find and empty. However, now that we’ve moved your temp folder to an easy-to-access location, it’s a snap to go in and empty it out whenever your attachments start acting squirrelly.

SO, the next time your attachments (inline or otherwise) disappear or won’t open, you can now navigate to your Outlook Temp folder, select everything, and delete it, flushing out the temp files and enabling Outlook to create ghosts of your files so you can just work right in Outlook instead of saving it out and working with the attachment. Or, better yet, JUST SAVE THE ATTACHMENT AND SKIP ALL THIS NONSENSE!!!

And don’t say “But that takes too long,” because if you think the two seconds it takes to save the attachment is too long, just imagine how long it’ll take when you’re sitting on that orange crate, waiting for I.T.

Stay tuned for further Tech Tips in the future! And, if you have a Tech question you’d like answered, why not RTFM?

Nah, just kidding, send it on in and I’ll do my best to answer it!

Published inComputer stuffEducationFun StuffTech Tips

6 Comments

  1. If you dork this up

    Heh.

  2. @Karen: Aww, come on, Karen, I know there’s secretly a propeller beanie in your closet somewhere. You’re probably some sort of computer genius and just don’t want to show me up on my goofy little blog!

  3. Sra SraNo Gravatar

    Too funny you are. I mean it, back off a little, huh? Ok, not really.

    So I guess that explains why when I open an attachment once, close it out, and then open it again, it’s called “Document (2)”. I always wondered how it knew how many times I opened the damn attachment.

    Anyway, when I send interoffice email, I’ve taken to just posting a link to the file on the network system rather than attaching the file itself. That way they can go directly to the file and edit it there instead of making some new copy.

    But I’m with you, saving attachments is the way to go.

  4. Thanks, Nick. I appreciate the tip. 😉

  5. @Trovan: By the way…YOU’RE WELCOME!

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