Outlook, Thunderbird, and Yahoo Mail put Gmail and Hotmail to shame in one important area: handling attachments. Moving e-mail-attached files to a folder on your PC is a breeze in Outlook, Thunderbird, and Yahoo Mail. Doing the same in Gmail and Hotmail? Forget it!
Freeware strips e-mail attachments in a few clicks
Back in June 2008, I wrote about Kopf Outlook Attachment Remover donationware, which lets you save some or all of the files attached to Outlook messages to your PC or network. The program adds a button to Outlook's menu that opens a single dialog box showing your attachment-removal options.
The attachments can be removed from the message or simply copied to a separate folder. You can detach specific types of files, remove files larger than a size you choose, and save images embedded in the body of messages. Other options let you overwrite or rename duplicate files, reproduce subfolders in the target folder, and even return the files you remove to the e-mails they were originally attached to.
You get many of the same options in Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail program via the AttachmentExtractor donationware. After you download and install the add-on and restart Thunderbird, an AE Extract button is added to Thunderbird's toolbar and an AttachmentExtractor option is added to the program's Tools menu.
Selecting either option opens the add-on's settings, which let you select the target folder, save attachments of certain types or with specific attributes, and auto-extract all attachments or only those meeting specific criteria. You can also delete some or all of the attachments, mark the messages as read, and delete the messages automatically.
Download attachments in Yahoo Mail
It's no secret that Webmail services can't match the features of their desktop counterparts, but when it comes to attachments, Yahoo Mail can teach Gmail and Hotmail a thing or two. While Gmail and Hotmail make it easy to find messages with specific types of attachments via search operators, downloading them once you've found them is another matter.
By comparison, zipping and downloading the files attached to your Yahoo Mail messages takes only a couple of clicks. In Yahoo Mail's Classic interface, click My Attachments in the left pane, select those you want to save, or click Check All to choose them all. Then click the Save to Computer button and choose Zip & Download Files button.
All the attachments are saved in a single zipped file to your browser's default file-download location. You don't get the many options provided in Outlook Attachment Remover or Thunderbird's AttachmentExtractor add-on, but at least the files are backed up and available on your PC or removable medium. I still haven't figured out how to accomplish the same feat with the attachments in Gmail and Hotmail.
Gmail and Hotmail do let you search for all attachments, and in Gmail you can find files by name or extension. To find all messages with attachments, enter has:attachment in the search box of either Gmail or Hotmail and press Enter. Gmail lets you add filename:*.doc, for example, to find only messages to which a Word .doc file is attached. You'll find a complete list of Gmail search operators on the service's help site.
Unfortunately, once you find the attachments in Gmail and Hotmail, there's not much you can do with them except open them one at a time and forward them to a POP or IMAP account. Then you can detach or otherwise process the attachments using one of the free add-ons described above.
You can also set Gmail to automatically forward messages to a POP or IMAP account. (In Hotmail you can forward automatically only to another Microsoft mail service.) I described how to forward mail from Gmail to Outlook and Thunderbird in a post from December 2007.
This won't help you detach the files already received by your Gmail account because there's no way to forward messages in bulk from Gmail. I realize that such a capability would be a spammer's dream come true, but a feature that lets you detach in bulk the files attached to Gmail messages would be nice.