Part V in the series How should I set up my computer? (parts I, II, III and IV). So far, I’ve connected my new computer safely to the internet, updated software, tweaked some of Windows XP’s controls and behaviors, and started installing software including Microsoft Office 2003.
I spend a significant chunk of my on-line life in Microsoft Outlook. Like much of my time, this article will focus on Outlook, and how I tweak it to my liking.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
The first time you start Microsoft Outlook, you’re forced to step through a wizard that is designed to help you set up your email accounts.
As you might imagine, I skip that, but we want to run it anyway. Work your way through the wizard, but don’t set up any email accounts just yet. Exit the wizard and exit Outlook.
Now that we’ve run Outlook, you’ll find that there’s a new entry in your control panel: Mail. That’s why we ran Outlook only to exit it immediately.
I make extensive use of Outlook Profiles. Profiles are nothing more that separate configurations of Outlook. I use one at home that includes all my email accounts (I have at least five), I use another when I’m traveling that only includes some of those accounts, and I use yet another when my wife and I are traveling together so that we can check her email as well.
In Control Panel, Mail, select Show Profiles. I don’t want a profile called “default”, so I copy the default profile to one with a name I choose and then delete the default profile. I also select “Prompt for a profile to be used” at this time, so I can choose which profile I want to use each time I start Outlook. I then click Properties to begin customizing the profile.
Default Data File
Setting up your own default data file and getting your email delivered to it instead of the one Outlook has already set up for you can be a bit of a challenge. I take these steps:
- Click on Data Files
- I add my data file, placing it in the location I want it.
- Close the Data Files dialog.
- Click on E-mail Accounts
- Select View or change existing e-mail accounts
- In Deliver new e-mail to the following location, select the other entry typically also called “Personal Folders”, and select Finish.
- Now go back to Data Files
- Select the old, original default data file and hit Remove to remove it, leaving only the one I selected.
Now we can finally fire up Outlook.
In Tools, E-mail Accounts…, View or change existing e-mail accounts, I add email accounts. One by one. All five of them. Besides the normal information (my display name, email name,
server names, account name and password), I also select More Settings… and change the name displayed to be my email name. Later when I’m presented with a list of accounts to select from, it’s obvious which one I mean. At this point I also set the security options required by my outgoing mail server. After all that, on the main account creation page, I also run a test just to make sure that the account is working properly.
Setting up your contacts to be used as an address book for Outlook seems unnecessarily complex as well.
Viewing the Folder List, right click on Contacts and select properties. Click on the Outlook Address Book tab, and make sure that Show this folder as an e-mail Address Book is checked.
Now, back in the Tools menu, select E-mail Accounts…, View or change existing directories or address books. Double click on Outlook Address Book and delete the first one – I believe it’s a remnant from the default data file we removed earlier.
Customizing Menus & More
I’m not a big fan of personalized or auto-hide menus, so I right click the menu bar in some unused area and select Customize. In the Options tab I select Always show full menus.
Since I’ve configured for multiple accounts, in the Commands tab I drag a different Send/Receive item to the toolbar that includes a drop-down that allows me to select a specific account to act on. A also drag off the default Send/Receive button and add a “Move to Folder” icon.
I also like to customize the Navigation Pane. At the bottom right of the navigation pane is a Configure Buttons menu that also includes Navigation Pane Options. I deselect a few things, but leave the things I use enabled: Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Notes and Folder List.
I also drag the divider at the bottom of the navigation pane down as far as it will go, leaving only a row of icons at the bottom. At this point I also spend a few minutes and remove everything from Favorite Folders and then drag over a few icons that really are my favorites.
Options – Lots of Options
At long last, we head off into the Tools, Options dialog.
On the Preferences tab, hit the Junk Email button. Now, I turn this option off completely, because I have some good spam filtering upstream – I see get only a small percentage of the SPAM that is headed my way. That having been said, I’ve found Outlook 2003’s junk mail filter to be excellent, and suggest at least the Low setting. If you select High, be sure to scan your junk mail folder periodically for false positives.
Still on the Preferences tab, in Email Options:
- I select “After moving or deleting an open item, ‘open the next item'”. I’ve never quite understood how the default of opening the previous is useful at all.
- I select “Close original message on reply or forward”.
- I uncheck remove extra line breaks in plain text messages. It can make some messages look more natural, but it can also seriously mess up formatting of others.
- Under “When replying to a message” I select “Prefix each line of the original message”.
- Under “When forwarding a message” I select “Include the original message text.”
- Under “Prefix each line with:” I enter “> “.
- I uncheck “Mark my comments with”
On the Mail Setup tab, hit the Send/Receive… button. I turn off “Schedule an automatic send/receive”. I prefer to not be interrupted by incoming email, but rather retrieve it on my terms and schedule.
On the Mail Format tab:
- “Compose in this message format: Plain Text”. HTML email is nice and all, but rarely do I need it for my messages.
- Turn OFF (OFF! OFF! OFF!) “Use Microsoft Office Word 2003”. I love Word as a word processor, but there’s simply no reason to use it for email. None. It just slows down the process, generates bloated HTML (if that’s your format), and is very much over-kill for writing email.
- I create my Signatures – typically several, associated with each of my accounts.
On the Spelling tab I uncheck “Correct two initial caps, and uncheck capitalize the first letter of sentences. The later is because when editing plain text messages, the editor seems to think that each new line is a sentence.
On the Other tab, under Person Names I turn off the “Person Names Smart Tag”. Then I select the Advanced Options button, and set “Startup in this folder” to be “Inbox”, and turn of the always annoying “When selecting text automatically select entire word”.
A Few Last Tweaks
We’re almost done. A couple of additional tweaks that are in other areas of the program.
Create a message, and while that is up, click on the View menu, and select BCC field. Now that will display by default.
Lastly, as I view various folders, I turn the Preview Pane off, or set it to display below the message list rather than to the right.
Well, not really. I continue to customize Outlook with things like new folders, new rules and the like as my email needs change over time.
It’s long list, but as I said, given the amount of time I spend in Outlook, it makes a lot of sense to invest in making it as easy for me to work the way I want to.
Next in the series: a frenzy of application installation.
The Setting Up Series: