How to Set Vacation Email Messages

I’ve written elsewhere of the hazard of setting a blanket auto-respond email message in Microsoft Outlook. Many programs and services have ways for you to tweak these settings so that only your contacts—those people in your address book—receive these messages. (This does not remove the chances of revealing information you don’t want to bad guys, but it does significantly reduce it):

Gmail

In Gmail, got to settings

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and then scroll down to vacation responder.

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Make sure you check the button at the bottom of the window Only send a response to people in my contacts.

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Hotmail

in Hotmail, you’ll find the same option in Options/Vacation reply.

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Microsoft Outlook 2007

Outlook has something similar, so long as your account is on the Microsoft Exchange Server (usually meaning you’re on your office network). There you can also select whether the auto-replies go to people outside or inside your organisation, etc:

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Mozilla Thunderbird

There’s no in-built way to do it. Here’s a workaround, explained in more detail here, but it’s not pretty, and it depends on your computer remaining on and connected.

(My thanks to Brett Roberts of Microsoft New Zealand for suggestions.)

Plaxo Moves Into Macland

Plaxo, the software and service that lets you update your contact details with others — and lets them update theirs with you — automatically, is now available for Mac. A press release issued today (thanks, Joseph) says the move “represents a major step toward the company’s vision to offer the first truly universal personal contact management service, accessible on any platform, email client, browser, or mobile device.”

This is an interesting way of putting it. Plaxo has weathered the criticism about privacy concerns — some of them from this humble blog, despite my support for the service as a whole — to expand beyond Microsoft Outlook to America Online, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Outlook Express. Users can also import contacts from their Netscape, Palm, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail accounts.

Like a lot of folk I’m torn over a service like this. On the one hand I can see the obvious benefits: Who better to update the contacts in your address book than the contacts themselves? But on the other hand, how many of the contacts in your address book would be happy that the information is being stored on some company server somewhere, without their knowledge or consent? Then again, that last sentence looks less problematic than it did a year or so back. We’ve heard so many cautionary tales about private data getting lost, stolen or abused maybe we think this kind of thing isn’t important. Now, perhaps, we realise that Plaxo is not really the problem here. The problem lies in those companies deliberating collecting data on individuals, whether they’re ordinary Joes like you and me, or members of the CIA, as the Chicago Tribune recently discovered by searching a commercial online data service.

But I’m not sure that’s the case. The bottom line is complex: We should be as careful with other people’s data as we are with our own. If we don’t want a company to keep details of us we shouldn’t keep details of other people online. Of course, this refers as much to any web-based application or storage tool or networking site.

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Synchronize Outlook with Others

Collaboration is the next big thing for software. Not that people aren’t trying, but I’ve not yet come across something that really solves the problem of people working together, needing to be able to see the same information etc. Here’s a new and quite simple offering that will synchronize your Outlook folders with other internet users:

OLFolderSync can synchronize any Microsoft Outlook folder with anyone else’s (except Drafts, Outbox, Sent Items and Deleted Items). The folders you allow to be synchronized will do so in the background by e-mail. You can easily synchronize Outlook folders through the internet without the need for both parties to be online at the same time.

If you have private data elements on Outlook you can exclude them from the synchronization process. It is also possible to synchronize only objects of a user defined category.

The German company that does this, Somebytes Software, suggests this would be useful for letting your

    • PA add and amend appointments, tasks or other Outlook objects while on the other side of the world.
    • Synchronize birthday dates with friends and family.
    • Work with a synchronized Outlook calendar, tasks and other documents across your team.
    • Synchronize Outlook data on your laptop with your desktop.
    • Check appointments with those of colleagues on the road.
    • Check club/association schedules with that of other members.
    • Facilitate schedules to team members.

All pretty useful stuff, though a little steep at $72 for a two person license. The web site is not easily navigable, but there seem to be other products that focus on synchronizing particular parts of Outlook, such as the Calendar, Tasks, or Contacts.

Update: More Office Woes

 My latest column (subscription only; very sorry) was about Microsoft Office 2003 and how, despite all the upgrades, a lot of old bugs never get fixed. That and why does every new feature appear to be more of a money spinning operation than a time saver?
 
Anyway, I’m not the only grumbler: Chris Pirillo, of Lockergnome fame, is also having problems, with Outlook 2003. “If you rely on POP3 or IMAP, you’ll be just as disappointed with the lame UI bugs and inconsistencies that plague Microsoft’s latest client”.

Software: Another Spam Tool

 An independent reviewer of anti-spam tools I hadn’t heard of called Spamotomy has awarded its highest rating ever for a desktop anti-spam product to InBoxer from Audiotrieve, which I also haven’t heard of. And I thought I was on top of the whole spam thing.
 
 
The Spamotomy review, apparently, is the result of an extensive week-long evaluation involving the processing of thousands of email messages, including more than a thousand junk mail messages. InBoxer was effective right from the start, according to the Spamotomy review. At the end of a week, InBoxer removed 96.5% of all spam with a 0.07% false positive rating. That’s not bad, though it’s not as good as POPFile has achieved over a longer period.
 
A possible downside: InBoxer only works with Microsoft Outlook. The product has a list price of $24.95.

Software: An End To Driver Hell?

 From the Simple But Useful Dept comes news of software from China that helps you back up drivers — software needed to run hardware — so if something goes wrong, you don’t end up rummaging through old CDs, cardboard boxes or floppy piles to find the right driver. Driver Magician can also back up and restore more items such as My Documents folder, Desktop, Registry, Internet Explorer favorite folder, Outlook Express mail files, Outlook Express mail rule, Outlook Express mail accounts and Outlook Express address book. Full version costs $25.

News: Outlook Ex-press? Or Look Out Ex, Press? Or Press Outlook, Ex?

 From the Do Microsoft Have Any Idea What They’re Doing? Dept comes another story about Microsoft products not quite gelling with reality. ZDNet Australia last week interviewed Microsoft Office product manager Dan Leach who said that Microsoft planned to halt development of Outlook Express, the email client that comes bundled with the browser Internet Explorer. Basically Microsoft seemed to hope everybody would upgrade to the Outlook collossus.
 
Fast forward two days, and scratch all that.
 

“I sat down with the Windows team today,” ZDNet quoted Leach as saying, ”and they tell me my comments were inaccurate. Outlook Express was in sustain engineering, but customers asked for continued improvement, and we are doing that. Microsoft will continue its innovation around the email experience in Windows.”
 

Leach was either on the beach too long, or customers were upset, or Bill intervened. Whatever, I’m overjoyed I’m still going to have ‘the email experience in Windows’, whatever that is. Still, I’d rather go for Courier, Pegasus, or even the email client in Opera. None are perfect, but they’re sturdy.

News: Dodgy Viral Marketing

 The folks at Sophos antivirus are drawing attention to something I think is going to pose a real problem for more sincerely motivated companies: Dodgy Viral Marketing or DVM. It’s nothing new, but it’s back, and it works like this: receive an email which invites you to visit a website to view comedy video clips, such as one of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists. (Gratuitous picture of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists now follows):
 
 
Follow the link in the email, and you are invited to install an application called “Internet Optimizer” (IO) from a website run by Avenue Media NV, based in the Caribbean island of Curacao. An end-user license agreement (EULA) for IO is displayed, stating that by viewing the movie you are giving permission to send an invitation to view video clips to all addresses found in the user’s Outlook address book and via instant messaging systems: “In consideration for viewing of video content, Avenue Media may send email to your Microsoft Outlook contacts and/or send instant messages to your IM contacts offering the video to them on your behalf. By viewing the video content, you expressly consent to said activity.”
 
Whoa! Back up the cart a bit, Alfie! And that’s not all. The EULA continues: ”For your convenience, [IO] automatically updates itself and any other [IO]-installed software to the latest available versions at periodic intervals. In consideration for this feature, you grant Avenue Media access to your machine to automatically update [IO], add new features and other benefits, and periodically install and uninstall optional software packages.” Great, excellent! Come on in!
 
Needless to say, Sophos is not happy about all this, and warns folk to read EULAs properly, and look carefully at what they may be installing. Sad thing is, folk like Plaxo, which I’ve talked about at length here, don’t seem to get that they have to work really, really hard not to play similar tricks in their yearning to get viral. Lesson to marketers: Don’t treat customers like idiots, just because, confronted by free software and the chance to see software billionaires being hit by Belgian desserts, we behave like them.

Under the Wire

Under the Wire

The Latest Software and Hardware Upgrades, Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

from the 29 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Slow Upgrade Uptake

Have you upgraded yet from Windows 98 to XP? If not, you’re not alone. According to a survey by on-line-statistics analyst WebSide Story (http://statmarket.com/), XP has taken three times longer than its predecessor to reach the same portion of the market. Windows XP first reached 33% global usage share in late March 2003, nearly 18 months after its launch in October 2001. Windows 98, on the other hand, reached the same benchmark in January 1999, only six months after its launch. My thoughts: While XP is a lot better than 98, users are showing that they’re not just going to blindly follow upgrades any more: While a third of them now run XP, a quarter don’t. Still, it’s not all rosy on the other side of the fence either: Apple is running into some familiar problems with its music-download service. According to WinInfo newsletter (www.winnetmag.net), people have figured out how to use a software service that Apple built into its music player to illegally download music over the Internet from Macs running iTunes.

My column on MessageTag, a program that allows you to check whether folk have read the e-mail you sent them, elicited some interesting mail [Are You Being Read Or Completely Ignored, May 22, 2003]. One user of a similar, but more limited, feature that comes with Microsoft Outlook points to one pitfall of the process: Knowing more than you really want to know about what happened to your e-mails. Steven A. Gray, from the United States, e-mailed his governor, Mitt Romney, complimenting him on a recent TV appearance, only to receive the following message, triggered by Outlook: “Your message to Goffice (GOV) . . . was deleted without being read on Mon, 24 Mar 2003 12:39:52 -0500.” OK, so MessageTag may not work for politicians. Other concerns were raised: Patrick Machiele, from the Netherlands, reckons the service won’t work well for those who, like him, dial in to grab their e-mail, but read it off-line. The guys from MSGTAG say this is true, but that overall the percentage of such users is very low. While Patrick has definitely pointed to a weakness in the system, I have to agree with MSGTAG: I’ve noticed very few mismatches where an e-mail is read but registered by MSGTAG as unread.

Finally, Nigerian scammers have judged on-line shopping to be a rich seam of inspiration. Here are excerpts from an e-mail from El-Mustapha, who claims to be the ex-personal aide to the Iraqi minister of education and research, Dr. Abd Al-khaliq Gafar (“that died in the war”). Before the war, he says, they travelled to France to negotiate a contract for educational materials and components for the ministry. UN sanctions forced them to pay cash. “In gust [sic] of this he had cleverly diverted this sum ($28.5m) for himself and secured it properly with a security vault in Spain for safekeeping,” he says. He did ask me to keep the whole thing top secret, but I’m still reeling from the last scam I fell for, so anyone interested in helping him recover the loot should e-mail him at mustapha_el@mail2guard.com.