July 22, 2009    



Like most people, you probably receive many emails with attachments of various types. It is possible to directly open these attachments from within Thunderbird using the appropriate applications such as OpenOffice or a PDF viewer such as Okular or Adobe Reader.

You can modify or delete existing actions in this menu, but you cannot add new ones.

You can modify or delete existing actions in this menu, but you cannot add new ones, which seems pretty stupid to me.

Although Thunderbird is a very fine email application, its default settings for dealing with launching programs to deal with attachments and configuring which programs to use for each type of attachment are really terrible. I hate to say that but it is true.

To delete or modify an existing rule, use the Edit=>Preferences menu, then select the Attachments tab and click on . But there is no way here to add new rules. Thus it is very difficult to preconfigure Thunderbird so you have to do it each time you need to open a new type of MIME attachment.

Configuring Thunderbird to Launch Attachments

So how does one deal with setting up the correct application to use for launching the various types of attachments? We have to define the program that will be used to handle the attachment. For example we will use OpenOffice for spreadsheets and documents from Microsoft Office as well as from OpenOffice itself.

As mentioned above, to add a new handler action it is necessary to do so when you need to open an attachment of a given type for the first time. So when someone sends you a Word document, you must configure Thunderbird before you can open the document directly from within Thunderbird. In this case I am opening my own resume.


This Opening attachments menu allows you to select a helper application to be used to open the particular attachment type.

Notice that there is already a helper application selected but that is fine for this example. If there were no helper application already selected you would see some words such as “Other” in the selection bar.

You can double-click on the attachment icon or right click on it and choose Open to get to this menu. If either action results in the attachment being opened in an application, then this has already been done and the Do this automatically for files like this from now on checkbox has been checked.

Click on the selection bar next to the Open with radio button and you will be presented with a file navigation menu.


Use the Choose Helper Application menu to navigate to /usr/bin and select ooffice. This sets OpenOffice as the application to use when opening DOC files.

Use the Choose Helper Application menu to navigate to /usr/bin and select ooffice. Start by clicking on the File System icon in the Places panel. Then in the right panel, click on usr then on bin. It will take a while for the file window to populate as there are several thousand files in this directory. Scroll down and locate the ooffice file and click on it. This sets OpenOffice as the application to use when opening DOC files. Select Open and Thunderbird immediately opens the attachment in OpenOffice and sets OpenOffice as the default application for the DOC file type.

For more information see the following link on using the standard KDE file manager to navigate the file system.

Configuring Other Attachment Types

There are many different attachment types and you will need to configure applications for each of these types as you encounter them. Attachments can usually be identified by the file name extension such as .doc or .odt. The following table will help you to locate and configure the appropriate program for each of several common types of attachments.

File Type Extension Application Program Path
Open Document spreadsheet ods OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Open Document  text odt OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Open Document Presentation odp OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Excel spreadsheet xls OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Word doc OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Power Point presentation ppt OpenOffice /usr/bin/ooffice
Adobe PDF files pdf Okular document viewer /usr/bin/okular

OpenOffice can be used to open many different types of attachments. It is not necessary to specify which OpenOffice program is used to open a particular type as the ooffice program identifies whether an attachment is a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, OpenOffice document or speadsheet or a Power Point presentation and can automatically choose the correct program to use to open the attachment.

Note that the preceding table is seriously incomplete. I will add to it as I discover the correct application for each type of attachment.




  1. David,

    Thanks very much for a most helpful article. I am in the process of trying to convert my work computer to Linux Mint, and have overcome almost all the hurdles, but only today ran into the very annoying deficiency in Thunderbird that you describe so clearly. I plan to try out your solution tomorrow, and if it works as easily as you make it look, I will be one happy camper.

    Very nice website, by the way.

  2. Thanks again, David. I tried your simple solution today, and it worked like a charm.

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