Opening photos that come in your e-mail is easy

Question: I’ve never seen a comprehensive article about how to “open” a photograph sent by e-mail. My computer tells me I don’t have imagevw.exe and therefore can’t open a .jpg file. What is the best way to deal with photographs generally?

Answer: There are a few ways to handle pictures received by e-mail, and there are also some precautions you need to take. Here’s a fairly comprehensive primer.

Images that come as e-mail attachments normally arrive in one of two file formats. They are either JPEG images and have the file extension .jpg like uncle_bobs_toupee.jpg, or they come as GIF images, as in aunt_thelmas_feet.gif.

Of course, baiting unsuspecting folks to open picture attachments is a favorite ploy of virus writers. New viruses or e-mail worms often will arrive disguised as a picture sent by a friend, but when you open the image, a program runs to infect your computer although, if that happens, you probably won’t be aware of it while it’s going on. If a picture attachment ends in VBS, as in evil-virus.jpg.vbs, don’t open it—just delete it.

Get a virus checker that scans your e-mail as it comes in. I recommend BitDefender 10 Standard (download it here) or McAfee VirusScan (download it here). At the risk of alienating you, dear readers, I have to say you are nuts if you don’t have one installed. If you don’t have one, get one. Spend the $35 to $60. If you don’t know how to get one, get help.

(Check our Emergency Help page for options on getting further assistance.)

Not having an anti-virus program installed on your computer these days is like leaving your door unlocked in a bad neighborhood and painting on the front of the house, “Come ransack my house—the door is unlocked.”

I get a lot of e-mail worms—two or three a day sometimes. I avoid being infected by never opening a file attachment that I am not expecting, regardless of who appears to have sent it to me. Also, my virus checker scans everything that comes in, and I update it once a week with the free updates that are offered with the software.

That said, here’s how to handle the images once you get them, and when you’re sure they are safe to view.

Open the e-mail message and look for the file attachment near the top of the message window. This is normally indicated by an icon (often a paper clip), or it may just say “file attachment” with the name of the file next to it.

You have several choices here.

1. Quick but dangerous method: Open it from within the e-mail.

2. Foolproof method: Save it to your desktop and open it from there.

Let’s tackle how to open it straight from e-mail first. Skip down this column if you want to learn how to do this using the foolproof method.

The quick method is to simply double-click the file attachment and wait for the system to open it in a default photo viewer. That’s the program that your system has been instructed to use to open files of that type.

If all goes well, the program will open the picture and display it. If it’s a virus disguised as a picture, your system will be infected, so do this only if you have followed the anti-virus precautions above.

If your system’s default photo viewer is not configured properly, you will get an error, as our reader above is getting.

So here’s what to do. You can install a free viewer from the web which, during installation, will ask you to pick the image types to associate with the image viewer. (Pick JPG, GIF and common image types such as PCX, BMP, and TIF or TIFF).

If you want to follow this advice, download the free Irfanview program from our TechnologyTips Software Library: Irfanview.

Once the viewer is installed and associated with JPGs, GIF files, and other common image files, the next time you open the photo attachment in e-mail, Irfanview will open the image for you without any further fuss.

But, let’s say you are a sucker for punishment and want to do it the hard way by associating JPG and GIF images with an existing program on your computer. First walk up to a nearby wall and bang your head a few times. That’s how this next piece of advice is going to feel, so now you know.

To use an existing program on your computer to open JPEG and GIF images, you need to reconfigure the default image viewer.

You can do this by going into file associations in the guts of Windows and assigning a program to open JPEG and GIF files.

Click Start, and then open Windows Explorer. It can be found either under Programs or Programs > Accessories. When Windows Explorer is open, click the Tools menu, then Folder Options, then the File Types tab. Scroll through the list of file types that appears until you see that Extension: in the lower part of the window says: Extension: JPG. (If it says Extension: JPEG – note the E in JPEG—it’s the wrong one). Then click the Edit button, then click Open in the Actions area. Another window will pop open that says Editing action for type: JPG Image.

I have ACDSee installed on my system which shows it as “Editing Action for type: ACDSee JPG Image”, so check all the listings to find out which entry handles JPG files. It may not be obvious.

Then click Browse and find the program that you want to open all JPEG files with. You need to specifically know which folder the program is in on your hard drive and what the program executable (the .exe file that starts the program) is called.

If you have installed Microsoft Office 2000, there is a program that comes with it called Microsoft Photo Editor, which is a good viewer to use. If it’s installed, you will find it at C:Program filesCommon filesMicrosoft SharedPhotoEdPhotoEd.exe on your computer.

Once you have inserted the location and name of the executable file that opens the photo viewer program, click OK and then Close. Do the same for the GIF entry. Now reboot. From here on in, when you try to open a GIF or JPEG file on your computer, either from within e-mail or elsewhere, the program you just assigned will open and display the file.

The safest way to handle an image that comes in by e-mail is to save it to your Windows desktop first before opening it. The idea is that you put the file where you can find it and then open a photo view program, then find the photo on the desktop and open it.

This is a foolproof method, but it could also be called the control freak’s method because you control what program opens which file. Here’s how to do that. Open the e-mail message and find the file attachment at the top. Right-click on it with your mouse. Click Save As (or sometimes, Save Target As depending on your e-mail program). A Save Attachment window will open.

Navigate to your Windows desktop either by clicking the desktop icon on the left side of the window (if it’s there … if it’s not, click the down arrow next to the pull-down box at the top of the window and find Desktop). You can either create a new folder to put the picture in, save the picture to an existing folder, or put the image with all the rest of your images.

Make sure you are putting it in a place where you can find it later. Once you’ve chosen a location for the file, name it whatever you want in the file name box. Use something descriptive like buster-the-dog.jpg. Note the .jpg file extension. If it was originally a GIF file, use .gif as your file extension. Click OK and the file will be saved.

Now you know where the file is saved, right?

Next close your e-mail program and use Internet Explorer to view the file. It’s a natural file viewer. Start the program. Note that you do not have to be connected to the Internet to do this. Next, click the File menu, then click Open. Now click the Browse button and navigate to the folder where you put the photo file. Note that if you go to the folder where you saved it and it is not there, be sure to change the Files of type at the bottom of the window to All files. The default setting, which you don’t want, is set to open HTML files (which are web page files) only.

When you see the photo file listed, click on it, then click OK. The photo will be opened in your browser.