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Unreadable Messages

There are four things that can cause a message to be unreadable at the other end:

Wrong character set

When writing a new message, you have an Format menu on the toolbar. when you click it, it reveals a Character Set fly-out. Choose this and you should see the Automatic item at the top of the list checked. If it is not, check it.

We do not recommend explicitly setting a character set. If you need to, you need to know what you are doing.

  • The Unicode (UTF-8) character set is perhaps the best. It enables the complete range of characters on all computers. The only time you would not use UTF-8 is if you suspect that the computer at the other end is very old.
  • Perhaps the next best choice is Western European (ISO). All computers can read this character set. You may get some slight problems with special characters such as the currency symbol (for example, the Western European character set contains the Euro, some others do not) but the body of your text will be readable.
  • All computers can also read Western European (Windows) but some characters will be wrong if the recipient is a Macintosh.
  • If you are using a language other than English, you must choose the correct character set for that language or the characters you need will not be available.

Wrong Encoding

When you are sending attachments, you have a choice of several encodings. Choose the one appropriate to the computer you are sending to.

In Entourage>Mail and News Preferences>Compose>Attachments you can choose a default encoding in the Encode for box. You can change this for a particular message by clicking the black arrow to the left of the Attachments line in the header of each message. This reveals a line below the list of attachments. If you click that line you can change the Encoding options for the current message.

  • Normally, set your default to Any computer (AppleDouble) and leave it that way.
  • If you are in the habit of sending large attachments or Word documents, another choice may be more appropriate.
  • If you are sending to a Macintosh, use BinHex to produce a smaller file.
  • If you are sending to a Windows computer, send MIME/Base64 to ensure your message is not damaged in transit.
  • If you are sending to a Unix computer, send UUEncode.

Do not use compression unless you are sending to a Macintosh. Unfortunately, most windows computers cannot read Stuffit compression. Use Stuffit outside of Entourage to make a Zip file if you need to compress a file for Windows.

If you are having problems with recipients being unable to open the attachment you sent them, try again using UUEncode. All proper mail programs can read UUEncode. Note that this format has no compression, so the file size will be very large.

Stuffit Compression

The most popular compression programs on Windows computers are Zip format. Zip format is not as tightly compressed as Stuffit compression, and the various Zip compression programs are unable to decode Stuffit compression (Aladdin won't sell them the license to do so).

  • Windows users can download a free version of Stuffit Expander from Aladdin Software.
  • The full version of Stuffit can create Zip archives.
  • If you are having trouble, send in UUEncode. It's not compressed, but it does not get damaged in transit through Internet Mail servers, and any proper email program can decode it.

File Name Extensions

File name extensions indicate the type of data contained in a file. You should always allow Entourage to append file name extensions to files that do not have them.

Interestingly, modern versions of Windows (Windows 95 and later) do not require file extensions unless they are wrongly configured. Modern Windows reads the file header inside the file to see what data is coming and often ignores the extension completely.

However, Mac OS X is a Unix operating system, and Unix does require file name extensions. So these days, you should always send file extensions in case the computer at the other end is the latest Macintosh!

If a recipient claims to be unable to open your attachment, and you know there is nothing wrong with the file, try telling them to save the attachment to disk and use File>Open from the application they want to read it. There are an awful lot of users out there whose computers are so badly neglected that it is a wonder that they run at all. Such users typically attempt to open attachments by double-clicking them from their email program. This maneuver depends on everything being set up correctly. And modern anti-virus programs prevent this method of opening. If the recipient uses File>Open, either the file will open normally or their application cannot open that kind of file.

For example, Word documents produced by Microsoft Office 2001 and X are in Word 9 format. Computers with versions of Word older than Word 97 cannot read this format. They can obtain a special converter from the Microsoft website that will enable them to read (but not save) the new format.

If their word processor is so old that it cannot cope, you can send to them in RTF format. Word and TextEdit can save RTF (Rich Text Format). Almost any known word-processor can read RTF. However, RTF is designed to "degrade". If the word processor at the other end does not have the features you used in the document, it will ignore them even though they are present in the RTF. So the older the receiving word processor, the more formatting you will lose. But they will always be able to read the text, and it's the best you can do.