Fraking Microsoft non-standards!

I hate how Microsoft can’t even be bothered to be consistent with how they treat their own program behaviors between different programs.

As some people know, I handle mail services for my parents and my father’s business. Of course, this means that whenever Mom or Dad have a problem regarding email, they come straight to me for help. (Of course, they do this for every computer issue, but never mind…) The other day, Dad came into my room with a puzzled expression, and asked if our email server strips out attachments. I looked at him, equally puzzled, and asked why. It turned out a customer of his had sent him an email message that was supposed to have an attachment, but there was none there. I told him that the mail server doesn’t strip out attachments; if the virus filter finds a message with malware on it, it quarantines the entire message and notifies me. Dad then said his customer had checked with someone and that said someone had claimed it was a problem with the virus/spam filter on the remote side. I offered to investigate for him, if only to confirm that just maybe his customer forgot to send the attachment (which I considered most likely).

The first thing I did was check the mail server logs, just to make sure. Sure enough, according to the logs, the message was large enough to have contained an attachment. So, I went over to Dad’s laptop and had him load up Outlook Express (don’t ask). The message showed no attachment. He also loaded Windows Live Mail, and the attachment wasn’t there either. I then had him forward the message to me as an attachment so I could see it in Thunderbird. I got the email, looked at it, and this time the attachment showed up.

It was a bloody winmail.dat file.

For those not familiar with it, Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server do something a bit dodgy when it comes to email attachments in certain circumstances. Most email clients standardize on the most-commonly used MIME for encoding email attachments, or the ancient but possibly-still-used Uuencoding. However, Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, when set to use Rich Text formatting and Microsoft Word when composing emails, sends the email formatting and attachments in a TNEF-encoded file called winmail.dat. This problem, on the other hand, doesn’t occur if MS Word isn’t used as the editor, or if plain text or HTML is used as the formatting method. Fortunately, winmail.dat readers/decoders are plentiful.

The WTF of this situation was how Outlook Express and Live Mail, both Microsoft products, dealt with the attachment. Instead of showing the attachment as a generic winmail.dat file like Thunderbird, or decode and show the data in the file like Outlook, Outlook Express and Live Mail just hide the attachment and pretend like it’s not there. Can’t Microsoft even be internally consistent with how they treat their own standards, such as they are? I wonder how many times something similar has happened, except that the recipient didn’t have an admin with the time or clue to figure out what was going on. Especially when one considers that my father is hardly the only business person out there that uses Outlook Express or Live Mail for his email…

Ah, well. I’ve done all I can at this point, which pretty much consisted of telling Dad to tell his customer not to use MS Word for sending emails to my father. Still, one can only imagine how many people out there are seeing this happen and blaming the recipient’s system, when it’s really Microsoft’s non-standards to blame.