BOOT CAMP 205 (11/12/01)




Like it or loath it Microsoft Outlook Express is the world’s most widely used email ‘client’ program. Personally I’m a fan it’s free, generally reliable, relatively easy to use, naturally compatible with other Microsoft applications and highly configurable, though I suspect comparatively few users ever use more than a small fraction of its numerous facilities. This week we’re going to be taking a close look at one of the most useful ones, Message Rules.


If OE has any faults it’s the way so many useful features are tucked away or given obscure-sounding names and that’s certainly the case with message Rules, which you’d probably never find, unless you were looking for it. Rules, or ‘filters’ as they’re known in other email programs works like an automated sorting office. Instead of all your incoming emails going straight into the Inbox OE can be set up to re-direct them into specified mailboxes. Messages can also be copied, forwarded, highlighted, flagged, sent an automated reply or deleted. You can even make up your own rules, but first a quick introduction to the basics.


I should point out at this stage that we’re only talking about Outlook Express version 5, included with later release of Windows 98/SE/ME, and version 6, which is bundled with Windows XP. Incidentally, if you are using version 5 it is worth upgrading to v6 for the extra security features. Look out for it on computer magazine cover discs and it can be downloaded from the Microsoft web site at:


There are two ways to create rules, manually, or from a message, we’ll look at that method first. Let’s suppose you are receiving unsolicited, offensive or pornographic emails from one source. The next time you get one open it and click on the Message drop-down menu (on the message window toolbar) and select the item Block Sender, click OK and every message from that email address will be sent directly to Deleted Items without it ever appearing in your Inbox.


This simple rule is very effective for dealing with undesirable emails from one specified sender, however, most of the time you will want to set up rules for messages that you want to receive and that’s where the manual set-up comes in. Before you start, though, if you haven’t already done so, create any new mailboxes, where your incoming mail will be sent. For example, you might want to separate work and business messages, or set up mailboxes for other members of your family. All you have to do is right-click on Local Folders (in the Folders pane) and select New Folder, give it a name (i.e. Work, Personal, Janet, Peter etc.), click OK and the folder appears on the list.


Go to the Tools menu select Message Rules then click Mail. (The Message Rules sub-menu also has the Blocked Senders List, which is where to go if you want to un-block a sender). The Message Rules dialogue box opens -- make sure the Mail Rules tab is selected -- click New and the New Mail Rule list opens. This is divided into three sections called Conditions, Actions and Description.


Conditions sets the criteria for a rule, i.e. the person or organisation the message is coming from, or going to, or if the message contains attachments, or is above a certain size. Scroll down the list and you will see that it covers most eventualities. The Actions box decides what happens to a message, once it has been selected, again there are plenty of options and they are all fairly straightforward. The Descriptions box provides a summary of your rule and – this bit sometimes confuses first-timers -- it’s where you specify the Conditions and Actions. 


To show how it all works we’ll set up a simple rule that sends all emails addressed to an Outlook Express user called Janet ( direct to her own mailbox. Step one, open Message Rules go to the Conditions box and put a tick next to: ‘Where the To line contains people’. Immediately the words ‘contains people’ -- coloured blue and underlined like an Internet hyperlink -- appears in the Description box. Click on the underlined text and in the dialogue box type ‘’ or a name or select an entry from the address book. Click the Add button then OK and the entry appears in the Description box. Next, go to the Actions box and check ‘Move it to the specified folder’, again a coloured link appears in the Description box, click it, select the Janet folder from the list and click OK, (if needed you can create a new folder). Click OK, check the entries in the Description box are correct click OK and it’s done. That’s really all there is to it!


Take time to look through the options in Conditions and Actions, there are some very useful features, like instructing OE not to download messages from your server. That means you’ll be able to access your mail from a laptop or Internet café when you are out and about, and because they stay on the server, you can download them onto your main PC when you get home. There’s a rule for not downloading emails with attachments or files above a specified size and the Reply with Message (in the Action box) works like an email answer phone, sending out an automated reply when you are out of the office or away from your desk.


Finally, once you’ve set up a rule it’s worth knowing that it can be applied retrospectively. In other words, you can move all of Janet’s emails from the Inbox to her own mailbox by opening the Message Rules dialogue box, highlight the rule and click the Apply Now button, a dialogue box appears, make sure the correct folder is shown in the ‘Apply to folder’ window and click the Apply Now button.


Next week – Troubleshooting modem problems





Data file – usually containing a photograph or text document – sent with an email message



Red flag icon, next to an email message, used to identify or draw the user’s attention



Highlighted and underlined text or icon on a web page, document or dialogue box, clicking on the 'link' takes you to another part of the document, or another web page



Outlook Express, like most Windows programs is a lot easier to use if you remember a few keyboard shortcuts. For example Ctrl + P prints the currently displayed message and you can view a message Properties (the identity of the sender, it’s size and even the route it took to get to your) by highlighting it and pressing Alt + Enter, There’s a full list of keyboard shortcuts in OE Help (select the Index tab and type ‘short’).

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