Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How do I open .doc or .docx files in Windows Mail?


.doc and .docx attachments will not open in Windows Mail on my Vista
computer system.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #56
, I look at the way email attachments work with the programs
installed on your computer.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Opening files

You need to have an application that understands .doc and .docx files
installed on your computer. It’s not the mail program that knows what to do
with these things.

What happens with attachments is that the mail program says, “Oh, here’s a
.doc file. I’ll ask Windows what program it has installed that understands .doc
files. I’ll have Windows run that program and open the .doc in the program that
understands .doc.”

You need the right program

If you don’t have a program that understands those file extensions, files of
those types, then you have nothing to open it with.

Windows Mail certainly doesn’t know what to do with it. All it would
normally would do is ask Windows what to do. Windows has no answers, so
there’s nothing that can be done.

Word processing files

Now, in the case of .doc and docx, those are files created by Microsoft
Office Word. Those are Word processing documents. So, that implies that you
probably want to have Microsoft Word installed on that machine. Alternately,
you can have Open Office installed on that machine. Alternately, you can have
Libre Office installed on that machine.

Both of those two latter options are free.

Document viewer

Also free, if you’re not interested in editing the documents, is the Word
viewer you can download from Microsoft. It’s a program that is essentially
Microsoft Word without the ability to edit anything.

It’s simply a viewing program. It will allow you to view the contents of a
.doc or a .docx file.

How it works

When you install any of the programs that I’ve just mentioned, they tell
Windows, “Hey, I’m the program that knows how to handle .doc, .docx, and
actually a whole bunch of other file extensions.”

Once they’ve been installed then, when Windows Mail comes along and asks
Windows, “Hey, I’ve got this .doc file. Do you have a program that will run

Windows can say, “Yes, I have a program for you. Give me that .doc file and
I will open up Microsoft Word (…for example) with that file and then the user
can see it.”

Mail only opens mail

That’s all it really boils down to. Microsoft Mail (or for that matter any
mail program) simply can’t know how to open every possible document type, every
possible attachment type. It relies on a program being installed on your
computer that knows how to do that for you.

If there is no program that knows how to understand and how to open up
those documents – well, then you can’t open them up.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

4 comments on “How do I open .doc or .docx files in Windows Mail?”

  1. I’m also thinking that there might be something in the configuration of Windows Mail. I’ve never used it, so I can’t say for certain; however, in Thunderbird, if you look in the Tools menu under Options, on the Attachments tab, you can manipulate some of the file extensions and what Thunderbird should do when it comes across those kinds of attachments in your email.

    You’ll want to make sure that they all do what you want them to do, or, as Leo says, asks Windows what to do.

  2. Hi Leo,

    You didn’t mention that it could be the file associations that are messed up. Maybe reassociating .doc and .docx would fix the problem. (Not sure how to do that in Vista.)


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.