Tag Archives: Outlook Express

Shoot The Messenger

Every time I start to feel warm and fuzzy about Microsoft something jumps up and slaps me back to reality. Here’s my latest slap:

For some reason my Trillian messenger wasn’t connecting to MSN because of some weirdness with my ISP so I had to download and install the 9 MB behemoth that is MSN Messenger. As usual it tried to change my homepage (at least it asked first, which I don’t remember the MSN Search bar doing so) but it worked ok. But try closing it down and you get an error message:

Msn1

Which says:

There are other applications currently using features provided by MSN Messenger.  You must close these other applications before you can exit MSN Messenger.  These applications may include Outlook, Outlook Express, MSN, MSN Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Three Degrees.

Whatever Three Degrees is. (Why hasn’t Diana Ross sued yet?) Why should I have to close all these programs just to close this clunky jalopy of a program? I thought Microsoft was past all this nonsense? I didn’t have to close those programs to install the messenger, so I can’t imagine they have somehow become seamlessly integrated with Messenger inbetween whiles. Or could they? And if they could, why wasn’t I asked? And is this a good thing? No wonder my mail box is full of plaintive complaints from folk who feel their computer’s been taking over by aliens. Or zombies. Whatever.

Advice for today: Until further notice, don’t install anything that, well, has Microsoft on it.

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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The Fate Of The Home Productivity Suite

I was asked by a PR firm on behalf of Corel to give my thoughts about office productiviy suites used in the home. I don’t always do that sort of thing, but I thought why not turn it into a blog posting, thereby avoiding any danger of being perceived as aiding and abetting a company I write about (hard to imagine that my ramblings might be seen as helpful, but you never know). Here, for what they’re worth (and I don’t think they’re worth very much) are my thoughts, post-long day at the office, post-chicken tikka and a Heineken, or, cough, two:

1. What is your perception of “the state of the nation” regarding Office Productivity packages used in the home?

Office [packages are] a waste of money for most homes, but often it, or something like it, comes packaged on laptops and desktops [anyway]. Most people use Outlook and Word, and a little Excel. Perhaps some PowerPoint to view something someone has sent them. All in all, a waste of software.

2. What would make an ideal home consumer productivity suite?

One that combined email, calendar and word processing and possibly a bit of finance. Outlook and Word are too much for most home users — Outlook Express is still a firm favorite, and many people see it as better than Outlook. But nowadays the home productivity suite needs to face new challenges from at least two quarters: synchronisation with other devices (phones, PDAs, other software) and to cope with the huge amount of digital imagery users have collected. It doesn’t mean the productivity suite needs to include image library and editing features, it just needs to fit neatly with them. This means that anyone taking a picture, sending an email/SMS/MMS, storing a contact on any device (PDA, iPod, smartphone) should be able to move that data all ways — onto their computer, onto another device, or back onto the device they originally created it on. It baffles users that they can’t do this kind of thing easily, or without buying some complex third party software.

Any ‘productivity’ software has to look beyond the platform [I meant desktop, or home, or office, or whatever the niche they’re aiming at is] they’re designing their productivity for, and think in terms of users’ productivity now being at least half the time mobile. No longer are people going to sit at their computers creating letters, invitations or other documents. They’re going to receive an email, reply to it and then want to save part of that email to their phone, whether it’s an image, a phone number or a map. That’s what productivity means to most people nowadays.

3. What could Corel improve compared to what we’ve done in the past?

I think i’ve answered this in 2. To add to this, RSS and blogging are terribly important, and the sooner these functions are included in existing software the better. it should be possible, for example, to create, organise and update blogs directly from WP/Word — what a waste of word processing power not to be able to do this (or edit webpages) easily. Browsers will soon incorporate RSS as standard, but RSS is actually the backend, not the front end, and I would expect to see a lot of interesting software that handles RSS in more creative ways than your average newsreader. Corel could be a part of that if they thought outside the perimeter a bit.

4. What areas are lacking in current office suites given to the home market (ie. Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition, Works, Microsoft Office — Standard, WordPerfect Office, WordPerfect Office Home Edition etc) that could be improved to make them better for that space.

See above. I don’t think any of these packages make much sense anymore, except for a limited audience. It’s old thinking: modern thinking would take into account that people just don’t work in front of the computer the same way they do in the office, so while I’m sure there’s some room for this kind of package, I would expect it to shrink further, and eventually be swept aside [unless it] links the software to
— Internet services more easily (say, for example, being able to save items of information in whatever format from the Internet or other programs; it’s no coincidence that Search is now a key industry, not just for the Internet but for one’s own files. This is good, but it’s a function of the failure of existing software to allow users to save and create information in a way that is easily retrievable. It’s not a new feature, it’s a BandAid to a bigger problem.)
— to other devices
— to programs that aren’t part of the package
etc etc.

Then I ran out of juice. But you get the idea. Mad ramblings, but some fodder in there. Thoughts very welcome, though not on my choice of food or beer.

Where Did That Email Come From?

An interesting new tool from the guys behind the controversial DidTheyReadIt?: LocationMail. (For some posts on DidTheyReadIt, check out here, here, here and here.)

LocationMail tells you where e-mail was sent from. It uses the most accurate data in the world to analyze your e-mail, trace it, and look up where the sender was when the message was sent. Find out where your friend was when she e-mailed you, or where a business contact is really writing from.

LocationMail integrates seamlessly into Outlook or Outlook Express; once installed, it shows you location information next to each message. LocationMail shows the City, State, Country, Company, ISP, and Connection Speed of the sender.

Installs painlessly into Outlook but crashed my Outlook Express. In Outlook a popup window appears with details of where the email was sent from, including the company, location, connection type, domain and IP address. LocationMail does this by using what it thinks is the IP address of the sender and running it through data from DigitalEnvoy and IP registrars. (A fuller explanation is here.) The makers hope to target a range of customers:

With phishing and other forms of Internet fraud becoming more and more problematic, LocationMail protects you from e-mail based frauds. The program can tell you if an email you seemingly received from your local bank was actually sent from a location half way around the globe. By instantly tracing the source of your emails, LocationMail helps keeps you safe from identify thieves. LocationMail lets you identify and eliminate fraudulent transactions from eBay and other Internet-based auction houses.

LocationMail protects companies who accept orders by email. Credit cards are regularly stolen from people in affluent countries, and used for placing online orders by criminals from other countries. By telling you an email’s origination location, the program helps you detect fraudulent inconsistencies.

Whether you’re a business person who wants to keep track of the demographics of prospects and customers, a manager who wants to ensure that incoming email addresses are legitimate and consistent, or a home computer user who is curious about where friends are e-mailing from, LocationMail has the tools that you need.

It costs $30. Another program that does something quite similar is eMailTrackerPro which will also identify the network provider of the sender, including contact information for abuse reporting, and uncovers the ‘misdirection’ tactic commonly used by spammers. Of course, LocationMail may not help that much, since legitimate emails might not, in Internet terms, originate from the place where they should. But it does a pretty good job and is useful if, say, you’re not sure about whether an email is spam or not (it does happen) the fact it originated in Seoul should provide a clue (unless you know lots of people in Seoul, of course).

And most importantly, this isn’t an invasive technology.

SpamBully Grows Up

A second version SpamBully, a Bayesian filter based spam fighter, has been released.

SpamBully 2.0 integrates into Outlook and Outlook Express and introduces some new features:

  • Email blocked based on the language of the email or the country of origin;
  • A link analyzer looks for spam by following links in an email and analyzing the web pages. Realtime Blackhole List integration continually checks for domains that are responsible for sending spam and automatically filters them from the Inbox;
  • Users can choose words and phrases they wish to allow or block from their Inbox;
  • Customizable languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Russian, and Chinese.

These sound like good features. It’s a shame the product doesn’t work outside the Outlook world, but for those within it, it sounds like it’s worth a try. SpamBully 2.0 is free to try for 14 days. Single user licenses cost $30.

Another Way To Find Stuff At Home and On The Net

Here’s another one of those tools that should have been around a long, long time ago (in fact one was but it went away: AltaVista Discovery. And don’t get me started on Enfish Tracker). It’s the desktop search engine that indexes your hard drive, the net, all that kind of stuff. Welcome to HotBot Desktop.

HotBot’s Desktop will let you “search local files, email (Outlook & Outlook Express), browser history, and RSS subscriptions. The HotBot Desktop creates a local index to allow you to quickly find local content as you are on or offline.” It also comes with a RSS feed reader and a built-in pop up blocker.

ResourceShelf says it’s by no means perfect, saying there are some bugs that Lycos intend to fix in later versions. It will also only work with Internet Explorer. Anyway, it’s great news that these things are back. I’m building up a list of indexing engines here. Please let me know if I’ve missed any.

In Plaxo-land, There’s Still Some Confusion

This Plaxo issue is confusing. But it’s still worrying.
 
Here’s the story so far: Plaxo is a way to keep your contacts up to date, and it works well and simply. But privacy has been an issue: Can you trust a company to keep your personal data — not just your own details, but all your contacts who also use Plaxo — safe? Plaxo have been quite convincing about this issue, which is why I and a lot of other people use the service: More than a million, according to their website.
 
But here’s the tricky bit: In recent months I’ve noticed that some contacts have been updating themselves in my address book without me giving them permission to do so — or even requesting it. The responses I’ve received from Plaxo have been of the kind you can see in the comments on one of my recent postings about this, namely, that can’t happen, it must be a user (i.e. my) error.
 
Now I’ve got a more complete, and complicated response from Stacy Martin, Plaxo Trust Officer. Stacy’s gone to some trouble to answer my complaint, and readily acknowledges the system isn’t perfect. And I accept that my earlier fear — that people I have never met, or put in my address book, may be adding their contacts — is unfounded.
 
But, without wanting to be difficult, I’m still not satisifed. The problem is this: Plaxo doesn’t just handle the contacts you assign to be updated via Plaxo, it accesses — and can alter, without your approval — your whole address book.
 
It’s complicated, but to try to boil down the argument I’ve paraphrased. I hope I’ve done it correctly: Plaxo, Stacy says, can only UPDATE entries that already exist in your Outlook/Outlook Express address book. It cannot ADD new entries unless you approve the action. This automatic update can occur in one of two ways:
  • If you and someone else have both agreed to allow update requests, or
  • Your address book contains at least the e-mail address of another Plaxo member who has granted other Plaxo members access to his information contained on one or both of his cards.
It’s this second one that is causing the problem. It sounds complicated, I know, but it comes down to this: If you have in your Outlook or Outlook Express address book anyone who is also a member of the Plaxo network, whether or not you request it, that person’s contacts will automatically update themselves in your address book. This leads, as you may imagine, to some surprising results:
  • All the people in your address book — automatically added by you manually, your email program (Outlook versions prior to 2002 had this feature), or any other program interacting with your address book — can now be altered remotely by those people, so long as they are Plaxo subscribers (In one case a contact was not only altered but the name given to that person — his actual name — was altered, making him, er, hard to locate);
  • This appears to override your original settings, that is, the list of people you requested updates from when you first configured the program.

In short, with Plaxo you’re no longer in control of your address book. Signing up to Plaxo means your whole address book is accessible by Plaxo (and presumably stored on their server, not just those contacts you’ve chosen to update via their service).

Stacy readily accepts some of this is confusing, and says we feel there is much more work we can do on our end to make this action more clear and understandable as to not alarm the member. Hopefully, future versions of Plaxo Contacts will make this more evident.”

That’s a start. Here’s my tupennies’ worth:

  • I think other Plaxo users would be as surprised as I to find out that Plaxo has a complete record of, or access to, our address book, whether or not we submitted all those contacts to Plaxo initially, and
  • that as a result people we have not contacted have updated themselves in our address book, without our permission.
  • How does Plaxo ’synchronise’ our contacts? Is this done only with those contacts marked as ones we have agreed to update via Plaxo, or is it all of them?
  • What about the embarrassment quotient? What happens, for example, to contacts we have at some point deleted from our Outlook address book? Is this information — the deletion — passed onto onto the Plaxo-fied contact?

The bottom line here is, in my view, that Plaxo have got to give much greater control to the user as to who and what is updated in the address book. My assumption was always that those people we’ve not selected to update via Plaxo would not be updated, or even accessed, by Plaxo. And to me the logical idea would be that if that did happen, we would get the chance to scotch such updates and sever contact with that person if we so desired. I’m relieved to know that Plaxo folk aren’t able to add themselves to my address book without my sayso, but I still believe there’s a lack of user control over who gets to update what.

Plaxo is a great concept, and a good service, but it must abide by its own promises, like this one: ”At all times, members of the Plaxo Contacts service control how their information is used and with whom it is shared.”

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: Yes! Another Spam Solution

  I feel this blog is becoming spamblog. Really. I plough through dozens of press releases every day just to find something good for you guys, and it’s all about spam. Here’s another one (and it’s just the headline): MailFrontier Matador(TM) 3.0 Learns and Adapts to Offer Consistent Maximum Spam Protection Over Time Also Protects Mobile Devices from the Increasing Spam Deluge. Excellent. That at least is interesting, although they’ll be really upset when they realise most screens will only read the first half, which will be MailFrontier Matador(TM) 3.0 Learns and Adapts to Offer Consistent Maximum Spam. Anyway, I digress.
 
MailFrontier’s new release is “the world’s smartest desktop anti-spam solution”. It even wheels in a Senator, Arizona’s Scott Bundgaard to confirm it, although he does sound a bit like a guy trying out different brans of mouthwash. “I tried other products on the market, but only with MailFrontier Matador was I able to receive my important email and get rid of spam. Now I can avoid unwanted ads for ink cartridges or home mortgages and can focus on emails that are significant to me,” said Bundgaard.
 
Anyway, on to the product. MailFrontier Matador 3.0, it turns out, “monitors incoming email, analyzing each message to learn more about specific patterns and vocabulary that define good email and bad email for each individual. The software creates an eProfile — a custom rule set — for each individual user, which adapts over time.” Matador also, interestingly, will “filter incoming email before it gets downloaded to a wireless device” which does sound useful.
 
MailFrontier Matador is a desktop application that sells for $29.95. This includes spam signature file updates, product upgrades, and email support for one year at no additional charge. MailFrontier Matador is available for users of Microsoft(R) Outlook(R) (2000 and 2002) and users of Outlook Express(R) (5.0/5.5/6.0), and Hotmail, MSN, and IMAP, when used through Outlook Express. To download a free trial please go to http://www.mailfrontier.com/ .