about attachments (lecture! ;-)

koos de heer koosdhr at auryn.nl
Wed Feb 10 00:13:21 PST 1999

Dear folks,

For those who know everything about attachments:
there is a practical proposal on how to handle binary
files on this list at the end of this message. You
may skip the lecture.

Sometimes we want to share information that is hard
to put in the text of an email message. Binary files
like pictures and word processing documents are a few
For this purpose, email has the possibility of using
attachments, but on a list like this, attachments
have two important disadvantages.

Binary files like pictures and word processing
documents come in a great variety of formats. Often
the software we use will open a few different formats,
but there is very little software around that will
accept all formats (some more on this later).
When sending email to a specific person, we can
put the attachment in a format we assume the other
person's software can open and read. And even if we do
not know the preferred format for the other person, if
it does not work, the other person will complain and we
can change it and send it again.

The other problem is that binary files can often get
quite big, much bigger than your average email message.
At this moment, I have a few thousand email messages
stored in my email archive. The average email message
is around 2 kb, the average attachment around 80 kb;
40 times as large. My largest attachment is 1,5 Mb.
When the recipient has a fast internet connection, this
is no problem. Or when you don't have to pay for online
time (internet through a free local call or a cable
connection) it does not matter how long it takes to
download an attachment.

In large parts of the world, people have to pay for
their online time by the minute. Even if internet
access is through a local telephone call, those calls
are not free in most countries (they often are in the
US). So it can happen that one spends money on down-
loading an attachment which is useless because the
software cannot open it. And with a list like the
OS-list, with a great variety of people on it who
undoubtedly possess a great variety of computers,
this is certain to happen.

Another aspect is the strain on the email system as
a whole. Because an attachment is relatively large,
the worldwide email system has a lot of work copying
these heavy attachments to all the different servers.
When there are complaints about the format and the
attachment is sent to the list again, the same thing
happens again.

Because of all this, it is best not to send binary
attachments to an email list. Then the question is:
how to share binary documents? In the case of word
processing files, there are two options:
1. if the text is not too large, you can copy the
   text from the word processor window and paste it
   into your email window so that it becomes part
   of the email message itself.
2. if the text is too large for that, or you have
   a certain lay-out that you want to preserve, it
   is best to find a central place where to put the
   file so that everyone who wants to can access it.

A very good format for a word processor file is the
*.RTF format, which can be read by most word processors
around the globe. Look in the window you get when you
choose "save as..." and try to find an option for the
file format. If you can find *.rtf or Rich Text Format
there, you're all set.

A software package that can read and convert almost any
file format around is Keyview: http://www.keyview.com.
I find this a very useful tool for viewing and converting
all sorts of binary files. It is only available for
Windows 95 and up, I don't know of a similar Mac or 3.1

Now we got this far, let's find a central place to put
these files. I think the best place would be a website.
We have a few fine websites in this Open Space world, so
I would ask the maintainers of these sites if they can
create such a possibility. I have a website of my own
and I would be willing to provide space for this purpose,
but my site is in Dutch and not specifically about Open
Space so there must be better alternatives.

So all you webmasters, how about it?


koos de heer
auryn management advies
utrecht, netherlands
mailto:koosdhr at auryn.nl

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