Internet Tips: Thirteen Simple Ways to Bring Order to Your Inbox

Illustration by Leigh Wells.
Whether you're a grizzled e-mail vet or you just got your first account, these 13 tips for Microsoft Outlook 2003, Outlook Express 6, and Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 will help you make the most of the medium. (Note that many of the tips will also work in older versions of the programs.)

1. Manage multiple accounts: I check more than a half dozen e-mail accounts regularly, and I don't like opening them one at a time. Fortunately, most mail programs accommodate several accounts handily.

To add an account in Outlook, choose Tools, E-mail Accounts, select Add a new e-mail account, and click Next. Choose the type of incoming-mail server (POP3 is most common), click Next, and then enter the account name and the incoming and outgoing server addresses (your ISP sent you this information when you signed up for the account). Click Next and Finish.

In Outlook Express, click Tools, Accounts, Add, Mail, enter the e-mail address, click Next, add the server addresses, click Next again, and finally add your account name and password. Click Next, Finish, Close.

In Thunderbird, choose Tools, Account Settings, Add Account, Email account, Next. Enter your name and e-mail address, click Next, select the type of incoming server, enter the incoming server address, click Next, add the user name, click Next, type the account name, click Next one more time, and finally click Finish.

2. Keep your inboxes synced: Most e-mail programs automatically delete messages from the mail server after you download them to your PC. This means you don't see all of your old messages together if you use several different systems to check for mail. To keep your inbox reasonably synchronized, set the mail program on each PC you use to leave messages on the server, so the next machine you use sees the messages as new and unread.

To do this in Outlook, select Tools, E-mail Accounts, click Next to modify an existing account, choose the account in the E-mail Accounts list, and select Change. Click More Settings, Advanced, and check Leave a copy of messages on the server (you may also want to check Remove from server when deleted from 'Deleted Items'). Click OK, Next, Finish to complete the process.

In OE, choose Tools, Accounts, select the account under the Mail tab, and click Properties, Advanced. Check Leave a copy of messages on server (and maybe Remove from server when deleted from 'Deleted Items' as well), and click OK, Close.

In Thunderbird, choose Tools, Account Settings, select Server Settings under the account you want to modify, check Leave messages on server (and Until I delete or move them from Inbox if you wish), and click OK.

3. Work faster with shortcuts: Save time by keeping your hands on the keyboard rather than on your mouse. To retrieve new messages in Outlook and Outlook Express, press Ctrl-M; to do the same in Thunderbird, press Ctrl-Shift-T. Start a new message in all three apps by pressing Ctrl-N, and send a message by entering Alt-S in Outlook and Outlook Express, or Ctrl-Enter in Thunderbird. To open a message, use the cursor keys to scroll to it, and press Enter. Close a message window by tapping the Esc key.

4. Send a Web page: If you'd like to share a Web page, you can paste the page's URL into the body of a message and instruct the recipient to follow the link. However, it's just as simple to send someone the entire page as an e-mail attachment. If you use Outlook, enable HTML mail: Select Tools, Options, Mail Format, choose HTML in the 'Compose in this message format' list, and click OK.

Browse to the page in Internet Explorer and select File, Send, Page by E-mail. A new message will open in Outlook, with the page pasted in the body of the message and the subject reading 'Emailing: the page URL'. Enter the recipient's address and then press Alt-S. The Web page will display correctly in Outlook, but not in other e-mail apps.

To e-mail a Web page in Outlook Express, click Message, New Message Using, Web Page. Enter the page's URL, and then press Enter. The page (or at least a close approximation of it) will be pasted into the message. Enter the recipient's address, add a subject line, and press Alt-S.

In Thunderbird, type Ctrl-N, choose File, Attach, Web Page, enter the Web page's URL, and then press Enter. The page will be attached to the e-mail message as an HTML file.

5. Change your outgoing mail server: If your current outgoing SMTP server does not work in a particular situation (such as from your office network), replace it with another. (Of course, this tip assumes that you have multiple e-mail accounts.)

To change your SMTP server in Outlook, choose Tools, E-mail Accounts, make sure 'View or change existing e-mail accounts' is checked, click Next, select an account, click Change, and enter the new server name in the 'Outgoing mail server (SMTP)' field. If the server requires a password, click More Settings, choose the Outgoing Server tab, check My outgoing server (SMTP) requires authentication, choose Log on using, enter your user name and password, and click OK, Next, Finish.

In Outlook Express, click Tools, Accounts, Mail, pick an account, select Properties, Servers, and enter the server address in the 'Outgoing mail (SMTP)' field. If your server needs a password, check My server requires authentication, click Settings, enter the password, click OK twice, and Close.

In Thunderbird, choose Tools, Account Settings, Outgoing Server, Add. Enter a description, the server name, and your user name. Click OK, and in the Account Settings dialog box, choose Set Default to make the new entry your default server.

6. Teach Outlook and OE to Gmail: Even though Google's Gmail service is noted for its simple interface, you may prefer to use your existing e-mail program to access your Gmail account. You can add it manually as described in the first tip, but Google's own tool for Outlook and OE is fast and simple.

Open your Gmail account, choose Settings, Forwarding and POP, and select one of the two 'Enable POP' settings (for all mail or only new mail). Click Save Changes. Click here to download and then run the Gmail Client Configuration tool. Choose which of the two mail applications (Outlook 2002 or earlier, or Outlook Express) you want to use to send and receive Gmail messages, and click Configure (see FIGURE 1

Figure 1: Teach Outlook how to Gmail with this free setup utility for older versions of Outlook and OE.
). Though this function doesn't claim to work with Outlook 2003, Outlook noticed when I added Gmail to OE and offered to import its settings. To configure other programs manually to send and receive Gmail, click the Configuration instructions link on Gmail's 'Forwarding and POP' settings page.

7. Know when you've got Gmail: The problem with Web-based e-mail is that you have to remember to look for it (unless, of course, you added Gmail to Outlook and OE as described above). Gmail's Notifier (in beta) alerts you when new Gmail awaits.

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