I originally found this commentary at Larry's World, but it is no longer available there. I "rescued" the content from the Internet Archive and reformatted it for this page.

David Ross

The curse of attachments

by Larry Magid

I've said it before but I'll say it again. Don't send file attachments via e-mail unless there is a good reason to do so.

Unless you've been asleep, you already know that millions of computers around the world were infected with the "I Love You" virus last year. This year the SircCam virus hit hundreds of thousands of people.

In these cases, Outlook and Outlook Express users unwittingly sent the virus to friends and colleagues because it mailed itself to everyone in the infected computer user's email address book. I've received infected files from an esteemed colleague at Fortune magazine and plenty of other good people.

The routine attachment

The root cause of the problem is the ease in which infected files can be spread around the Net. To put it bluntly, too many people are routinely sending out too many attached files.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that it's possible to attach binary files to email. I've been online long enough to remember when that was very difficult to do. Someone who wanted to send a binary file had to use special software to encode the files as text and the person on the other end had to decode it.

Fortunately, the process now is a lot easier but with this comes the propensity for abuse.

Fact is, any time you send an attached file you are using far more bandwidth than if you were sending a standard email message. There are times when that may be necessary but I get plenty of messages with attached files that I could do without.

Skip the logos

PR firms, for example, often send me press releases as Word files. Embedded in them might be the company logo or other graphics. In almost every case, the message could have just as effectively been sent as a regular email message.

And if the sender really wanted me to look at a logo, photos or any other fancy work, he or she could have posted it to a website and sent me a link so I could visit it myself. If you're in public relations, feel free to check out my open letter at www.larrysworld.com/pr.htm.

Some people send me Jpegs with information that I also don't need and I occasionally get small pieces of unsolicited software that do something frivolous, silly or downright stupid.

I hate file attachments when I'm on the road, connected via a slow dial-up modem and get especially angry when I'm overseas paying up to $1 a minute for my slow connection only to have to wait several minutes for a multimegabyte file from someone I don't even want to hear from in the first place.

It's business after all

It's about time that business people realize that the Net — in addition to being an entertainment media — is a business network. Sending unnecessary attached files is like driving unnecessarily large vehicles (which a lot of people do) that clog the roads for no real reason.

Even if there weren't pernicious viruses such as "ILOVEYOU," "Melissa," or "SirCam" there is still the possibility of a macro virus hitchhiking on a Word file that someone sends you.

Return to sender

My policy is to never open an attached file unless I am expecting it and want it, even if it comes from someone I know. When I get such a file, I send the person back a standard response, which I have saved as one of my optional signatures in Outlook.

"You sent me an attached file but I don't open unsolicited attached files," I start off. "This is a common way to spread computer viruses and the larger files waste bandwidth. Please feel free to send material as short regular email message. If you have graphic material, post it to a website and let me know the URL.

Please, don't clog the Information Highway. It's too crowded and too dangerous as it is.

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