When it comes to Mac e-mail software, Microsoft enjoys something of a, shall we say, stronghold on the market. Every Mac includes Microsoft's Outlook Express. Microsoft's Office 2001 suite includes Entourage, a spiffier Outlook Express that also has calendar features. And last week, Microsoft released Outlook 2001 for the Mac, which can tap into corporate Microsoft Exchange servers.
There are other e-mail programs--some users swear by Qualcomm's Eudora--but as far as I'm concerned, Microsoft is welcome to this Monopoly board. Its e-mail programs are first-rate. Entourage is particularly powerful, sporting tight ties with Microsoft Word and other Office 2001 programs. I divide my e-mail time between Entourage and Microsoft Outlook for Windows, and I'm always pleasantly surprised at how much better Entourage is.
Here are some of my favorite Entourage tips, many of which apply to Outlook Express too.
In-box filtering. Looking for a needle of an e-mail in a haystack of an in box? Both Entourage and Outlook Express can help. Near the upper-right corner of each program's main window is a text box with two pop-up menus to its left. By choosing options from the pop-ups and typing a few characters in the text box, you can narrow down the list of displayed messages.
For example, if you know the e-mail's Subject line contains the word "dog," choose Contains in the middle pop-up menu and then type "dog" in the box. Each program will display only those e-mails that meet your criterion.
Both programs also have powerful Find commands, and Entourage lets you save search criteria so you can reapply them later. And remember that you can avoid in-box clutter to begin with by creating folders for your messages. With the Tools menu, you can even set up rules that automatically file incoming mail for you.
Squashing Web bugs. Entourage has a great feature that provides privacy protection when you're reading e-mail marketing pitches--and it's a feature that its Windows cousin doesn't provide. The feature deals with so-called Web bugs--tiny graphics embedded in e-mail messages and designed to help marketers track whether you've opened their mail. To squash Web bugs, first choose Mail & News from the Preferences sub-menu of Entourage's Edit menu. Next, in the HTML area of the preferences dialogue box, uncheck the box labeled "Allow network access when displaying complex HTML."
Deferring downloads. If you've ever felt yourself aging while a huge attachment oozes in over a slow connection, you'll love Entourage's and Outlook Express' ability to only partially download large messages. In the Edit Account dialogue box, click the Options tab and then check the box labeled "Partially retrieve messages over 20KB." The program will now skip large attachments and allow you to download them later.
Type less with AutoCorrect. If you frequently type the same phrase or finger-twisting term, you can store it using Word's AutoCorrect feature and then recall it on the fly by typing an abbreviation.
Entourage can use Word's AutoCorrect entries. Store those oft-typed phrases in Word, and you can recall them when writing e-mail. Entourage also uses Word's spelling checker and dictionary.
Automating with AppleScript. Entourage and Outlook Express support the Mac's AppleScript automation technology. Both programs include scripts for simple tasks, but if you want to really tap their automation talents, visit http://www.applescriptcentral.com. There, you can download dozens of scripts for Entourage and Outlook Express as well as for other Mac programs.
If you want to move beyond Outlook Express but can't spend $450 for Office 2001, consider the new $149 Word + Entourage 2001 bundle, which hits stores next week. Besides missing the PowerPoint and Excel programs, the bundle lacks some Office 2001 features, including the ability to synchronize information with Palm-based hand-helds. Still, there's no cheaper way to get the personal computer world's best e-mail program.
Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.
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