BOOT CAMP 162 (15/02/01)




Many PC users choose to use Outlook Express as their email 'client' program because it is so straightforward and easy to use. It also helps that it's bundled free with Windows and included on most Internet sign-up discs. There are plenty of alternatives but Outlook Express remains the popular choice because it is simply so good.


A lot of Outlook Express users never venture beyond the default settings, which is a pity because the program's great strengths are its flexibility, compatibility with virtually all current email standards and the ease with which it can be customised and configured too do all sorts of clever things. That's the theme of this week's instalment of Boot Camp, which rounds off our short series on the nuts and bolts of email. For the record most of what follows concerns Outlook Express 5, though many of the tips and tweaks can be applied to earlier versions.


When you open Outlook Express for the first time you might want to make a few changes to the way it looks. One thing to do is uncheck the box on the opening screen that says 'When Outlook Express starts go straight to my inbox', this will save you several seconds every time you use OE by taking you straight to the main screens. Next, go to the Layout on the View menu, where you can change the way the main screen looks. It's handy to be able to reduce the clutter; my own preference is to only have the Folder List, Status Bar and Toolbar showing, and to uncheck the Preview Pane option.


It's worth knowing that you can operate multiple email accounts from Outlook Express, which can be convenient if several people share your PC. You may also want to use different accounts for business and personal messages, and with Outlook Express 5 you can also access your Hotmail web mail mailbox (see Jargon Filter). To set up additional email addresses click on Accounts then the Mail tab and select Add, and Mail. This will start a simple Wizard that asks you to enter your username, email address, password and the addresses for your Internet Service Provider's incoming and outgoing message mailboxes (usually labelled POP3 and SMTP), which you will have been provided with when you opened the account. It only takes a minute or two to enter the details and once you've finished one of the accounts will be nominated as the default. This is the one that will dial up your Internet connection when you click the Send and Receive button. It will first check your main or default mailboxes, then staying on line, access each of your other accounts in turn, downloading incoming mail as it goes.


By default all incoming messages from your mailbox, and any others that you have set up will be directed into the Inbox, which is fine if you are the only once using the PC and don't expect to receive many emails, but if you share your PC with other members of the family, receive a mixture of personal and business emails, or you want to separate messages from a particular individual or organisation Outlook Express can organise things for you. It lets you create any number of custom Inboxes and a powerful feature called Message Rules will direct the messages into the correct 'boxes'.


It's usually better to set this facility up after you've been using Outlook Express for a little while, built up a list of contacts, received a few emails and established your working patterns. The first step is to create the new inboxes, so right-click on Local Folders in the Folders window and select New Folder, give it a name and click OK. Repeat for as many categories as necessary.


Next, go to the Tools menu, select Message Rules and Mail, click New and the Conditions and Actions dialogue box appears. Take a moment to read through the available options. Conditions help you to identify the sender or a recipient and the Actions tell Outlook Express what to do with the message. When you've checked the relevant boxes the newly created Rule appears in the Description window, the final step is to click on the highlighted Conditions and Actions, which will direct you specify a sender's address or name, and the folder you want the messages sent to. Rules can also be used to automatically block, delete and forward messages; it's a very useful feature that's well worth getting to know.


Learn to manage your mailboxes; most people prefer to have the most recent messages at the top of the screen, others choose to have them listed alphabetically. The option to change the order is at the top of each mailbox window. Clicking on the column headings 'From' and 'Subject' arranges each column alphabetically whilst the 'Receive' heading sorts them into chronological order, with either the first or last at the top of the list, depending whether you click once or twice.


We'll round off with some of Outlook Express's bells and whistles that can be used to liven up your emails. However, a word of caution; if you want your message to get through or you don't know what client software the recipient is using always send plain text. You can set it as a default from Options on the Tools menu, select the Send tab and check Plain Text under Message Sending Format. Whilst you're in Options you can change the default typeface for your outgoing messages from the Compose tab.


If you want to apply text effects, colours, add pictures or add any of the many embellishments Outlook Express has to offer you will have to change to HTML format (see Jargon Filter), you can do this from Options, or on an email-by-email basis from the Format menu on any New Message window. Note that not all email software can handle HTML formatted messages, and to be honest it's a bit of a mixed blessing. Personally I avoid HTML and send formatted text and images as attachments (see Boot Camp 157, January 11th 2001). HTML messages don't always come out as you expect them either, but if you want to try your hand, have a look at what is available in the way of email 'Stationery' by going to Options on the Tools menu. Select the Send tab, check the item Mail under Stationery and then click Select. Select each item in turn and you'll see a preview in the right hand pane. Just remember that HTML messages take longer to send and receive, and they may not always be received in an intelligible form.


Next week – Spring Clean your PC





Hypertext Markup Language – hidden codes that allow formatted text, graphics, coloured background, images links to email addresses and web pages to be embedded and displayed in email messages



Post Office Protocol version 3/ Simple Mail Transfer Protocol – data handling systems used to transport messages inside PCs and around the Internet



Email messages can sent to and from web sites, bypassing the need for special software. The best-known service is Hotmail, which offers free email accounts at



Just how fast is your Internet connection? Your PC modem connection dialogue box may be correctly configured to report true data rates, but most are not and show all connections running at 115k bits per second… (see Boot Camp 97 Tip of the Week, November 4th 1999 for details) However, there is a better way to find out how well your dial-up connection is doing, and maybe help you to tweak its performance by logging on to one of the web sites that give your PC and modem a free health check. There are now more than 150 sites worldwide. It's worth trying several of them, in different countries, you can find a comprehensive list at:

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