Can Outlook attachments change themselves?
July 7, 2009 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible for an email attachment in Outlook to 'update' itself from a network drive? My attachment is not the same now as it was when I first received and viewed it.

My company uses Word documents with embeded Excel objects. These documents are saved on a network drive, then emailed to me as an attachment using Outlook. When I get the email, I open the attachment, print the document, and close out of the attachment and message. I do not make or save any changes to the document or the email message.

If I find any problems with the printed document, I'll reply to the sender and tell them what I think should be changed. Then they'll send back a revised document - it has the same filename as the original document.

This has happened twice: I'll get a 'revised' document on which the Excel object does not appear to have been changed. I'll ask the sender, and they insist the changes have been made.

If I open the document from its location on the network drive I see that the sender is correct and the revisions have been made. If I close the network document and then open the attachment again, the changes are there and I cannot go back to what I originally saw (no changes).

Why would the attachment be 'updating' from the network drive instead of remaining as originally sent to me? Does it have something to do with the temporary Outlook files in the OLK folder?

Other perhaps relevant points:
* The embedded objects are not linked to a separate Excel workbook. They have either been copied from an external workbook or created within the Word document.
* I'm running Windows XP Professional SP3 and Office 2003 and I kinda assume everyone else is too.
* My boss receives the same email and attachment I do, but often doesn't open the message or attachment. I asked him to look at one I was having problems with earlier today - his attachment showed the updated version of the file.
* I know for sure I did not open an older email and print the wrong version of the document.
* My computer is always connected to the network drive on which the documents are saved.

This is making me look crazy because I keep asking the sender of these documents to make changes that have already been made.
posted by youngergirl44 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
yeah, that makes no sense. You can try disabling outlook cached mode if you use it.

Are they sending you attachments of the documents, or links to the documents on the network share?
posted by anti social order at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: I know, WTF?

We don't use an Exchange Server, so I don't think I have the option to turn the cached mode on or off. Per the Outlook help topic, it should be in my email account settings, but I don't see anything there.
posted by youngergirl44 at 1:56 PM on July 7, 2009

Is everyone viewing the document inside your network? If so, try using a hyperlink to the document inside the email instead of using an attachment. This way everyone is opening the document "live" on your network share instead of individual copies on your exchange server.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm pretty sure they are actual attachments, not links. Screenshot of email header.

No, not everyone viewing these documents is on our network, so the hyperlink option is out.
posted by youngergirl44 at 2:07 PM on July 7, 2009

Outlook stores local copies of attachments in your User Profile:

C:\Documents and Settings\(username)\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\(Hidden Subfolder of random letters)

Before you go looking in there, be aware that for some reason, Microsoft has decided to make these sub-folders hidden, even if you ask XP to show all hidden & system folders.

It is likely you're opening the attachment, it's saving a copy there. When you get the revised one, Outlook is seeing a copy with the same name already in place, and not overwriting it (or having a problem when it tries to) - so you are seeing the old copy. And then, just to spite you, when you try again, it DOES save the new copy, or there's something subtle going on that is forcing it to update (closing & re-opening Word or Outlook, etc.)

One way to test this is to clear your Temporary Internet Files using IE or the Internet icon in your Control Panel, before you review the re-sent document. Another way would be to ask them to add a "revised" to the file name. The third way would be to save the attachment to your computer, and open that saved copy.

None of these are pleasant, or solve the problem in a graceful way, but are workarounds. This is something I deal with on a regular basis here at my office, and it drives me BATTY.

I do have to agree, though - simply referring to the network copy rather than attaching it is the best option. It's always current, it's less space in your mailbox, and it's one less copy / version of the file floating around.
posted by GJSchaller at 2:12 PM on July 7, 2009

Argh, missed your last post - sorry!
posted by GJSchaller at 2:23 PM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: I thought it might have something to do with my temporary Outlook folders, but was under the impression that if you open two attachments with the same name, the second one will be identified with a (2) after the filename. Is it really possible for Outlook to fail to append the serial number to the document name?
posted by youngergirl44 at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2009

This seems to be more reminiscent of a linked object issue. The Word document itself needed no changes, right?

I know you said the Excel object is not linked, but can you be sure (absolutely sure)? To test it, right click it, and see if it has "Update Link" as a menu option. If it does, it is a link, not an embedded object.

Now, if it is linked, you could see such behavior if your computer (is it a laptop?) is set up to use the Offline Folders feature in Windows XP.

You could be referencing an offline copy of the Excel file on the network, so that even if Word tries to update the link from the central copy, it will be using old data, until the sync next completes.

How soon after correcting the error, and it being sent to you, did you open it?
If using offline folders, what are the sync schedule settings? Only when the machine is idle? When you next lock the machine? etc. The default Microsoft instructions tell users to set "Automatically synchronize the Offline Files when I log on and log off my computer", which is pretty infrequent for many people. But what about you?

I could imagine how while you call the sender, go get coffee, try to figure it out, go see your boss, etc., perhaps logging off, the computer might get round to doing the sync, so that the next time you open the attachment the link is magically up to date.

But this presupposes it was in fact a link.

Let us know. It's a shot in the dark.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 10:23 PM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: Right clicking the object was how I made sure the embedded object was not linked to a separate workbook. There is no "update link" menu option. Also, If I use Alt+F9 to display the field codes, there's no reference to any other file, it says {EMBED etc...}, but doesn't include a filepath.

That being said:
* I'm on a desktop that's always connected to the office network.
* I don't knowingly use 'offline' features of any programs.
* According to the timestamp on the network file, it was saved on 6/15 at about 4pm. I recevied the email with the attachment on 6/22 at about 10.30am. At that time of day, I would have probably printed the document within 20 minutes of receiving it. This morning, the attachment was still as I saw it on 6/22, until I opened the network file and then reopened the attachment.
* If I'm at my desk when the email comes in, I'll print the attachment right away. If I'm away it could be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour after the message comes in. I have my Outlook to check for new messages every minute.
* When I contact the sender about the changes not being made, I'll reply to the message with the attachment. I include the attachment they sent for reference by dragging and dropping it from their message into mine.
posted by youngergirl44 at 12:15 AM on July 8, 2009

It could be a problem with Word. Word does create temp files, but I don't know a lot about them. When using Word as your email editor, it's always open in the background, possibly keeping those temp files alive. I would turn it off.

If you open the old attachment, does it then show the new information even though the changes weren't made on it?
posted by cathoo at 4:26 AM on July 8, 2009

So, this morning, it was again "pre-edits"?

If you have Outlook webmail access that you can use from anywhere, next time you see the document "pre-edits", run to a different machine and open it from there, and see if it's pre- or post-edit.

(It is also possible to embed a link, by copying from Excel to Word (or Excel) as a link, and then copying and pasting to your final document (not as a link), but this would cause the same problem for all recipients. There is obviously some relationship that exists to the network copy, or it wouldn't update just because you opened the network copy. When you invoke the embedded object, can you right click and THEN get a menu with "Update Link"?). Can you find out exactly how the person constructed the document?
posted by blue_wardrobe at 6:02 AM on July 8, 2009

Response by poster: cathoo:
I do not use Word as my email editor. If I open the oldest email (5/15, the one that caused me to ask the sender to make changes), it's still as it was back then. The only attachment that has changed is the one from 6/22, on which the changes were supposed to have been made, but appeared unchanged when I first received it.

blue wardrobe:
The attachment appeared unchanged on my computer until this morning (now yesterday morning). That was the first time I had opened the file from the network drive since I had originally received the email on 6/22. I have been unable to go back to the 'pre-edits' version of the attachment since it 'updated' itself.

To try and understand the first sentence of your last paragraph - If I start with a separate Excel workbook and enter my data there, then copy and 'paste special' a link from the workbook into a Word document, then copy that data and 'paste special' a non-link from the first Word document to a second Word document, the second Word document will still be dependant on the first workbook (creating the problem for all users - not just me)?

When you say 'invoke' the embedded object, do you mean double click to edit it? If so, the answer is no - I don't get any menu options for updating links while editing the object. Even if I right click on the object and select the 'Worksheet Object --> Open' menu item to open the object in Excel, the Excel 'Edit --> Links' menu item is inactive.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:08 AM on July 8, 2009

I only skimmed this on the way to another section, so forgive me if I misunderstand, but I've noticed that you can attach a file to an email without sending it, edit the file in another program, and then send the email, and it'll send the edited copy. I take this to mean that Outlook retrieves the file from its on-disk location at the time the file is sent, not at the time the file is attached to the email. So if you receive a file with an attachment, save the attachment to disk, open the attachment from within your email, edit it, and then send the email back, you'll get the original copy that you saved to disk - because you edited the copy that was in the temp location.
posted by cdm at 8:51 AM on August 9, 2009

Best answer: This turned out to be a Windows / Mac compatibility issue.

The user that was editing the Word document was using a Mac. I am using a PC.

In order to properly review and print the revised documents I receive, I now have to take the following steps:
1. Right click each embedded object
2. Worksheet Object --> Convert
3. Select "Convert to: Microsoft Office Excel Worksheet"
4. Click OK

I don't know why this works since the "Current Type" displayed in the dialog box is already Microsoft Office Excel Worksheet.

posted by youngergirl44 at 1:11 PM on April 19, 2010

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