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by Franki

For those of us that choose not to use any part of the Microsoft Virus Transport System, (henceforth to be known as Outlook, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Internet Information Services.) We sometimes are forced to deal with Outlook users that can’t seem to stop themselves from using RTF (Rich Text Format) files. Microsoft had an ugly habit of encoding the E-mail in a TNEF archive. TNEF is a proprietary format that non Microsoft E-mail clients can’t read, and so all we see is an attachment called Winmail.dat.

After finding myself in that unfortunate position last night, I decided to find out what I could do about it. I’m a big fan and user of Mozilla Thunderbird and it doesn’t understand Winmail.dat files any more then any other non MS program. Fortunately, help is at hand and I will now give a brief detail on how I got Thunderbird to give me my attachments and not just the winmail.dat file. (For a better option for Thunderbird users, see the update down the bottom “Lookout”)

First step is to head over to and download the fentun.exe file. It says it’s only for Win95/NT, but it works great on both my Win98 and WinXP machines. Save that file somewhere, I just put it in my program files directory (c:Program Files).
Next step is to open Thunderbird and find an email with a Winmail.dat file, and upon finding it, double click on it, (the winmail.dat file I mean.) A “Opening Winmail.dat” box will pop up, and you should select “Open with” and click on browse, then simply browse to wherever you saved fentun.exe and select it. Be sure you tick the checkbox that says “Do this automatically for files like this from now on”.

That’s it, from then on, double clicking on a Winmail.dat file in Thunderbird will automatically open Fentun which will show you what files are in the archive and offer you an “extract” button. Just extract the file in question and bobs your uncle.

It seems like every time Microsoft comes up with another method to try and lock users into using their products, someone comes along and gives away a tool that allows us to get around it. Isn’t the Internet great? One day when I get lots of free time, (it could happen) I’d like to write a Thunderbird extension to automatically and transparently handle TNEF files, but don’t hold your breath as I’m way to busy to take on another project right now.
This little article is specific to Thunderbird (and Mozilla mail) but people with Eudora, Pegasus or any other non Microsoft e-mail clients will get Winmail.dat attachments too and the same process will apply to them as well. Fentun will work with any E-mail client that can call external programs to handle attachments, (pretty much all of them).

INSERT for THUNDERBIRD USERS There is a new extension under development called (appropriately enough) Lookout and it’s purpose is to integrate a Tnef reader into Thunderbird so it need not be an external application like Fentun. So for Thunderbird users at least, winmail is no longer a pain.

7 Responses to “Dealing with the horror of Winmail.dat.”

  1. Sascha Teske Says:

    There is one problem with that: This way it recognises _ALL_ *.dat files as tnefs.

    I have to admit though that I haven’t got a better idea yet. But if anyone knows of a portable way (read: Linux/WinXX) I’d truly appreciated a note.

    Dear site maintainer,

    did you ever wonder what your fancy “Security code” will look like in an Braille terminal for a blind and how blind people would be able to participate on your discussions?

    [Franki: I do indeed realise that, however the comment spammers fill our comment section with ads for gambling and sex tools when we don’t have it. It is unfortunate that those nasty types are hurting the experiance for blind people, but if we didn’t do it, our site would contain thousands of links to the advertiser site and the search engines would penalize us for it. So until they find a better way to stop that stuff, this has to be in place. ]

  2. Bill Cernansky Says:

    Thanks! This helps a ton! All these years I’ve been suffering when my peeps send me mail from Outlook. Now I don’t have to beg them to change their systems.

  3. john Says:

    Great work around for Thunderbird.



  4. Tracey Lee Says:

    I’ve followed your instructions. Fentun shows the files & says it’s extracted them – but where to ? – I cannot view them anywhere ? (Sorry if I’m a dumb blond!)

  5. Franki Says:

    The default location of the extracted files is the same directory that contained fentun.exe

  6. George Says:

    I, too, am unable to locate the actual extracted file. It appears in the Fentun window but where can it be opened? It is not to be found in the Fentun directory.

    FYI – WinXP

  7. przewóz osób Says:

    Wspaniały wpis!. Oczekiwałem dokładnie tego!

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