The ability to ‘take a peek’ at a file attached to a message is one of the simple and convenient benefits of upgrading to Outlook 2007. When I say you can take a peek at an attachment, I mean that you can preview attachments inside of the Outlook Reading Pane, without having to run the program that the attachment is normally used with. For example, send me a Word document as an attachment, and I can preview the contents of the document in the Reading Pane without having to start Word. This is certainly a change from the old way of doing things, where you couldn’t see the contents of that Word document without starting Word and viewing it there. Similarly, you can preview attachments consisting of Excel spreadsheets and numerous other kinds of files that people commonly email back and forth.

Why is this new approach better? I’ll give you to reasons why. First, previewing an attachment is faster and more convenient than finding and launching the native program for the attachment file type, then opening the attachment in that program. Second, being able to just take a peek at an attachment is clearly a more natural way to work.

You might be wondering how it’s possible to preview attachments without using the program the attachment works with. Outlook comes with a set of attachment previewers, little programs that can provide a limited view of the contents of an attached file. They don’t have the ability to edit the file, and won’t necessarily show the contents exactly the way they’ll appear in the full application that normally opens the file.

Outlook 2007 comes 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 downloadable attachment previewers for their own file types. So you should already have, or be able to download, attachment previewers for most any kind of file attachment you are likely to receive.

Assuming that the attachment previewer you need is already installed, using it is simple. 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 allows you to see the body of the message. In addition to the Message button, each attachment gets its own button, showing the name of the attached file.

The button you click determines what you see in the Reading Pane. Click Message to see the contents of the email message. Click an attachment’s button to get a preview of the attachment. It’s all nice and easy, but you need to know that the attachment preview isn’t guaranteed to look exactly the same as the file would look if you opened it with the program it works with (a Word document in Word, for example). Even so, you’ll likely find attachment previewers to be quite useful if you receive lots of messages with attachments.

To learn more about using attachment previewers, including a number of additional previewer oddities and gotchas, visit To learn about installing and using the official PDF attachment previewer from Adobe, click here.

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