Getting the Most out of Outlook Express (1) from the January 2000 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

This article is written mainly for those literally thousands who have joined the Actrix community over the last few months and who may be new to the internet and to email. In coming newsletters I hope to deal briefly with other email programs and also with browsers such as Explorer and Netscape. 
At Actrix we don't always endorse everything Microsoft does. In particular we believe that approaches like their "Dob in a friend who might be using pirated software" are exactly what the world needs less of, but with Outlook Express, most of us here will say they have produced a winner. It's a program that suits the average email user perfectly. It enables you to sort and manage your email with ease without its becoming too powerful or cumbersome (like its bigger and less popular brother Outlook). Like most Microsoft products, it is reasonably simple to use. It usually comes bundled with Windows and it is freely available from the Microsoft Update site ( and then click Product Updates) or courtesy of Actrix as part of the downloadable Internet Explorer 5 program. Downloading IE5 from the Customer Services section of the Actrix Web site is a great way of updating both programs from version 4 to version 5 at the same time. This is certainly recommended if you haven't done it already.
Getting to know the Internet and e-mail is a real adventure. At the help desk it is always a pleasure to deal with newcomers who are still coming to grips with how to send, receive, sort and save their email. They have so much yet to discover! So this article isn't going to cover everything that Outlook Express can do. Where would the fun be in that? Instead it is designed to point you at some of Outlook Express's features that you can experiment with at your leisure. I will also try to stick mostly to the features that Outlook Express 4 and Outlook Express 5 have in common.

Whether you love or hate Microsoft, there is definite value to the fact that so many of their programs are organised similarly. Like Word, FrontPage and most of the others, Outlook Express has an Options section that is easy to find and work with. It mostly consists of a series of tick boxes allowing you to choose which features you'd like to employ. It's a good idea and a learning experience to experiment with some of these options. If you're not sure what an option will do, tick or untick it and experiment with your email. It just might be a good idea to remember which ones you're experimenting with so that if you don't like something you can easily go back to the way things were. Remember, too, that Microsoft products generally come with very good Help features.

The Options section can be found by clicking the Tools menu near the top and to the left in Outlook Express when no email is open. I don't think I need to explain every option that can be found. Most are pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure that a copy of sent messages is set to be saved in your Sent Items folder.
  • Unless you have particular reason to worry and really know what you're doing, don't encrypt or digitally sign your outgoing messages. Unless your recipients also know what to do with such messages to be able to read them, you will generate more hassles for yourself and your correspondents than benefits.
  • Requesting receipts (Outlook Express 5 only) is probably also a waste of bandwidth and other people's time if there is no good reason for such requests.

Some things that are particularly fun to experiment with:

  • Signature files (Tools/Options menu), which can be set to be added to your outgoing email. You can have multiple signatures, set one of them as a default (meaning OE will add it to the bottom of your email automatically) or choose a different one by selecting from the Insert menu in an open email. Signatures can be serious comments, information about yourself, your contact details, or a quote that you like or think might amuse or enlighten. It is generally considered bad form, however, for a signature file to be more than 4 lines.
  • Under the View menu, have a play with the Layout feature. Tick and untick a few boxes and see what effect this has on how Outlook Express appears.
  • Message Rules (under the Tools Menu) can also be a handy way to get Outlook Express to assist you with sorting your mail into separate folders as it arrives. You can also block mail from certain senders. In Outlook Express 4 this feature is called Inbox Assistant, but it is less powerful.
  • Stationery: Under the Message menu, select "New Message Using" to experiment with colours and backgrounds within your email.
  • New Folders: Create new folders for storing and sorting your sent and received messages. On the left hand side of Outlook Express, highlight where you'd like the new folder to be created. In other words, if you just want a new folder, highlight Local Folders. If you'd like a new sub folder, highlight the folder that you'd like to create a sub-folder under, and then select "New" under the File menu. This way you could create a folder for each of your regular correspondents. Separate emails can be easily dragged and dropped from one folder to another.
The Address Book: This is a really handy feature that saves time and typing errors. Click the address book icon at the top of Outlook Express to open it. You can add new people to your Address Book by clicking on the "New" button. You can select someone from your list by double-clicking them. A new email will then open with their email address already in the "To" field.
But nicknames is the best feature of the Address Book. By giving a correspondent a simple nickname such as "Bill," Outlook Express will add his complete email address whenever you simply type "Bill" into the "To" field. You can add someone to your address book manually, but an easier way is to open an email from them, and click Tools in the open email, and then Add to Address Book. There are lots of tabs and features within the Address Book, and, again, you are encouraged to experiment.

Multiple Accounts: With Outlook Express you can manage more than one account, and, using the Tools/Accounts feature, you can set it up to check your main account, all your mailboxes, and even email accounts with other ISPs without having to log off and re-dial. You will need to know names of pop and smtp servers to check accounts with others ISPs, but once you're familiar with how Outlook Express works and thinks, this sort of stuff is mostly a snap. And, of course, there's always the Actrix Support Desk.

These are just some of the things Outlook Express can do, and I haven't even started on Outlook Express as a newsreader program yet. If you're new to email, or if you've been coasting along with Outlook Express for years, I hope I have encouraged you to experiment a little so that you can get the most out of sending and receiving email.

Updating from Outlook Express 4 to Outlook Express 5 is fairly easy too. You can update to Internet Explorer 5 and Outlook Express 5 at the same time by downloading IE5 from the Customer Services section of the Actrix Homepage. If you just need Outlook Express 5, then the Windows Update page might be quicker.

Go for it! Outlook Express yourself!