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Build Your Skills: Configure Outlook Express for multiple POP3 mail accounts

Complete walk-through of multiple POP3 mail configuration of Outlook Express, with additional information on using rules, subfolders, and multiple identities to sort out your mail

Chances are good that you have more than one POP3 account. So how do you keep track of all your e-mail? Do you use multiple e-mail programs, or do you use separate computers for each e-mail account? If you've been using methods like these, you're pole-vaulting over anthills because Outlook Express can easily handle multiple e-mail accounts. After you configure all of your accounts in Outlook Express, you can use a combination of folders and Message Rules to keep messages from each account separate. Settings in the account properties will also help you control how and when each account processes messages.

In this Daily Drill Down, I'll show you how to add and configure additional POP3 accounts in Outlook Express and use subfolders and Message Rules to manage all your e-mail. I'll also add one other Outlook Express twist: multiple identities.

Managing multiple POP3 accounts
Before you begin
Before you set up your multiple e-mail accounts, you’ll need to turn off automatic message processing until you've finished tweaking Outlook Express. This will keep your Inbox from being flooded with new messages until you’re ready to process them. Choose Tools | Options and, on the General tab, disable the options Send And Receive Messages At Startup and Check For New Messages Every N Minutes. Then click OK. We'll activate these options later.

Adding POP3 accounts
Creating a POP3 account in Outlook Express isn't very difficult, so I won't spend a lot of time on it. I will, however, take a look at the general process and some key points to consider. To create the account, open Outlook Express, choose Tools | Accounts, and click Add | Mail to start the Internet Connection Wizard. In the wizard, specify your name, e-mail address, and incoming and outgoing e-mail servers. You can enter the IP address or Fully-Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of each server. In many cases, both the incoming and outgoing server addresses will be the same, but check with your service provider to be sure.

The wizard also prompts you for your Internet mail logon credentials, which are the user name and password for your account on the server. If you select the Remember Password option, you won't need to enter your password to retrieve messages, but there is little to prevent someone else from sitting down at your computer while you're away and retrieving your messages. I prefer to leave the password field blank and clear this option, which causes Outlook Express to prompt for the password each time it checks the account. Configuring Outlook Express in this way also gives me a chance to cancel any scheduled mail retrievals after they fire.

The option Log On Using Secure Password Authentication (SPA) isn't required for most POP3 servers. However, some services, such as CompuServe Classic, use SPA, so be sure to check with your provider if you think you’ll need to activate SPA.

CompuServe Classic POP3 settings
CompuServe Classic uses Secure Password Authorization (SPA) along with the proprietary Virtual Key software, to enable you to retrieve your POP3 mail with Outlook Express. You can get around the need for SPA and Virtual Key if you set a POP3 password for your CompuServe account. You have to use CompuServe software (available for Windows 9x/Me) to access CompuServe, then GO POPMAIL to set it. Otherwise, make sure you have Virtual Key installed on your computer and enable the SPA option in the Outlook Express account settings. You'll find more information about Virtual Key at the CompuServe Web site.

Configure message retrieval settings
After you’ve configured all of your POP3 accounts, you can turn your attention to configuring them to control how Outlook Express checks for new messages. You might want to make a few other changes to the way the accounts process messages, at least until you’re sure you’ve worked out all of the bugs in your multiple-account setup.

To configure how an account checks for new messages, choose Tools | Accounts and click the Mail tab. You'll probably want to change the names of any newly added accounts because Outlook Express defaults to the server name for the account name. Double-click the account you want to change and, on the General tab, specify the desired account name (such as Work, Personal, CompuServe, and so on) in the Mail Account field.

At the bottom of the General tab you'll find the option Include This Account When Receiving Mail Or Synchronizing. If you enable this option, Outlook Express will attempt to retrieve new messages for the account when you click Send/Recv on the toolbar. If you clear the option, Outlook Express will not attempt to process the account until you choose Tools | Send and Receive and select the appropriate account. I recommend you turn off this option initially until you get your rules in place to process the multiple accounts. Then you can turn on the option again so Outlook Express will process all accounts at the same time.

Next, click the Servers tab. Many ISPs protect their servers from spamming by either restricting access to their own network (your computer must have an IP address in the ISP's network) or by requiring you to log on to the server to send outgoing messages. If your provider falls into the latter category, select the option My Server Requires Authentication. You only need to click Settings and specify account credentials if the outgoing server requires credentials different from those on the incoming server.

If the service provider's server doesn't support authentication for outgoing mail but instead requires that your computer reside on its network (and connecting to its network isn't feasible), just specify the server of another account that does accept messages from your computer. For example, let's say you have a local ISP account that allows you to send outgoing messages. You're adding a CompuServe account, but you don’t want to connect to the CompuServe network. CompuServe won't accept your outgoing messages because you're not on its network. The solution is easy: Just configure your CompuServe account settings to use your local ISP's mail server for outgoing messages. The server you use to send outgoing messages is unimportant; it's the reply-to address that determines where replies will be sent.

Use SMTP to process outgoing mail in Win2K/XP
If you're running Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional, you can use the SMTP service to process your outgoing mail.

Finally, click the Advanced tab. Until you get all of the rules in place and have this multiple POP3 thing figured out, you might want to leave a copy of your messages on the server so you don't inadvertently lose an important one. Simply enable the option Leave A Copy Of Messages On Server and click OK. It's better to delete a few duplicate messages than to lose an important one.

Organizing your messages with rules
At this point, you've configured Outlook Express so it won't automatically process messages, and you’ve configured each account. Now you can start creating rules to help keep your messages separate.

You could let Outlook Express deliver all of your messages from all accounts to the Inbox, but it's often a good idea to keep them separate. For example, maybe you want to keep your personal mail separate from your work mail. Or maybe you use one account for a special purpose, such as eBay or a mailing list, and you want to keep it separate from your other accounts. Whatever your needs, using rules to deliver messages to different folders is the key to keeping your messages separate.

Creating the folders
You can create the folders to contain messages from specific accounts at any time, including at the time you create a rule. I prefer to have everything in place first, so that's the approach I'll take here.

In Outlook Express, right-click the Inbox in the Folders pane and choose New Folder to open the Create Folder dialog box. Specify a name in the Folder Name field that identifies the folder’s association with a particular account. For example, you might create a folder named Personal for your personal POP3 account.

Within the Create Folder dialog box you'll find a folder tree with the Inbox highlighted (a different folder is highlighted if you right-clicked something other than the Inbox). If you want to create the folder in a location other than within the Inbox, click the parent location. For example, click Local Folders to create the folder at the same level as the Inbox, rather than within it. When you're satisfied with the settings, click OK to create the folder.

Repeat this process to create folders for any other POP3 accounts.

Creating the rules
To create the rules, choose Tools | Message Rules | Mail to open the New Mail Rule dialog box. In the Conditions box, locate and select the condition Where The Message Is From The Specified Account. In the Rule Description area, click on Specified (which is an underlined hyperlink) and choose the account from the Account drop-down list; then click OK. The word Specific will be replaced by the account name. In the Actions list, select the action Move It To The Specified Folder, which causes a new line to be added to the Rule Description area. Click on Specified in the Rule Description area, select the folder in which you want the messages to be placed, and click OK.

Finally, you should change the default rule name to something a bit more useful. In the Name Of The Rule field, highlight the name and change it to something like Work Mail, Personal Mail, or whatever you like. Then click OK to create the rule.

Next, you need to think about how your multiple POP3 accounts and newly added rules will affect your spam-killing rules, if you have any, as well as any other rules you may have defined. For example, let's say you participate in an e-mail discussion list about underwater basket weaving. You've previously created a rule named Weaving that moves those messages to the Weaving folder when they arrive. Let's also say that you've just created a rule that moves all messages from that account to a folder named Personal. The net effect is that your basket-weaving messages are going to end up in the Personal folder, not the Weaving folder, if the Personal rule fires before the Weaving rule. In other words, new messages need to be in the Inbox in order for rules to operate on them. So you'll need to let your spam-filtering rules and other organizing rules fire before you move the messages to their respective account-based locations. The end result is that weaving messages will go to the Weaving folder, and other personal messages will go to the Personal folder.

Organizing your rule-firing order is easy. Choose Tools | Message Rules | Mail to open the Message Rules dialog box. Click on a rule, and then click Move Up or Move Down to adjust its position in the list. The rules fire in sequential order from top to bottom, so place your account-moving rules at the bottom of the list. This technique will allow your other filtering and organizing rules to fire and process messages before the messages are moved to their respective folders. It will also keep the spam in those other folders to a minimum and move targeted messages to the proper folders.

Got messages?
The folder tree in the Folders pane displays a folder name in bold if the folder contains unread messages, so you can see at a glance if you have new messages waiting in your Personal, Work, or other account-specific folders.

Separating accounts with identities
Adding multiple POP3 accounts to Outlook Express is one way to handle all of your e-mail with one program, but there’s another option to consider: using multiple identities. When you first set up Outlook Express, it creates a default identity called Main Identity. However, Outlook Express lets you create and use other identities as well. For example, you could use the Main Identity for your work-related accounts and use a second identity called Personal for your personal accounts. This is a good solution if your company frowns on personal mail or you're concerned that someone might see your personal messages while you're away from your desk.

You can add more than one POP3 account to each identity, so you could have two personal POP3 accounts in your Personal identity and a couple of work-related POP3 accounts in Main Identity. Outlook Express stores the messages for each identity in separate folders, so you don't have to worry about your messages intermingling or your personal messages being visible from your work identity. What's more, Outlook Express doesn't copy rules from one identity to another, so you don't have to worry about rules in one identity affecting messages in another identity. Best of all, you can password-protect an identity to keep prying eyes out of the folders and messages in it.

Using multiple identities in Windows XP
In most situations, using identities in Outlook Express is pretty simple. If you've upgraded to Windows XP SP1, however, you'll probably find that identities won’t work properly. Even if you tell Outlook Express to switch to a different identity, it still winds up in Main Identity. If you're in this boat, open Outlook Express and choose File | Identities | Manage Identities. Clear the option Use This Identity When Starting A Program and click Close. Outlook Express will now let you change identities.

Your first step in using identities is to create one or more additional identities to use in addition to, or in place of, Main Identity. Choose File | Identities | Manage Identities. Click New; specify a name for the identity (such as Personal); and then select the Require A Password option if you want to prevent others from getting into the identity. Then click OK. Repeat the process to create any other identities.

Using identities and copying rules
Identities aren’t difficult to use. Start by creating the POP3 accounts for each identity. Choose File | Switch Identity, select the identity you want to use, and click OK. Outlook Express prompts you for a password if you’ve configured the identity for one. After Outlook Express opens, create the POP3 accounts for the identity as I explained previously.

You may also want to create rules to process messages within the identity, but you probably don't need to worry about creating rules to separate messages based on accounts. You're using identities, not folders and rules, to separate your messages. However, you can still create rules to process messages from different accounts within an identity, if you need to.

You'll probably also want to create rules in each identity to handle spam and other filtering tasks. If you've already done this in one identity and want to copy those rules to another identity, you can; but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, Outlook Express doesn't give you the means to export rules to a file, nor does it store its rules in a file. Instead, Outlook Express stores rules in the registry. You can, however, copy rules from one identity to another by copying the Rules\Mail key from one identity to the other.

Be careful in the registry
As a rule, changing the registry can have a disastrous effect on your system. Always perform a complete backup of the system before editing the registry.

To copy the Rules\Mail key from one identity to the other, click Start | Run, and enter Regedit to start the Registry Editor. Open the branch:
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Identities\{Identity Number}\Software\Microsoft\Outlook Express\5.0\Rules\Mail - (where {Identity Number} is the identity that contains the rules you want to copy)

  • If you're not sure which one you need, open Outlook Express and switch to the identity in which the rules currently reside. Choose Tools | Options, click the Maintenance tab, and click Store Folder to view the store location. The path in the Store Location dialog box includes the identity string. When you've located and selected the right key in the Registry Editor, choose File | Export, and specify a name for the registry file, such as Rules.reg. Make sure the Selected Branch option is selected, and click Save.

    Next, open Notepad, and then open the Rules.reg file you just exported. Highlight the identity string inside the curly brackets from one of the lines in the file, and press [Ctrl]C to copy it to the Clipboard. Choose Edit | Replace, click in the Find What field, and press [Ctrl]V to paste the string from the Clipboard.

    Leave open the Replace dialog box, open Outlook Express, and then switch to the identity to which you want to copy the rules. Choose Tools | Options, click the Maintenance tab, and click Store Folder. Highlight the identity string inside the curly brackets, and press [Ctrl]C to copy the string to the Clipboard. Switch back to Notepad's Replace dialog box and click in the Replace With field, and then press [Ctrl]V to paste the new identity string into the dialog box. Then click Replace All to replace the strings. Choose File | Save As, enter the name NewRules.reg in the File Name field, select All Files from the Save As Type drop-down list, and click Save.

    At this point you’ll have two REG files: the original, and the one for the new identity. Each contains the same rules; the only difference is the identity string specified in the key paths in the file. Now you're ready to import the rules into the registry. Open My Computer, locate the NewRules.reg file you just saved, and double-click the file. Windows will ask if you want to add the information in the file to the registry. Click Yes.

    Finally, verify that the rules are now available in the new identity. Open Outlook Express, switch to the target identity, choose Tools | Message Rules | Mail, and check out the rules.

    Final tests and tweaks
    With your accounts created and message rules in place, it's time to test your handiwork. Send some test messages to each POP3 account, and then selectively retrieve messages from each one. Make sure your messages are coming through and being processed as needed by the rules you've defined. When you're satisfied with the results, you can turn on automatic message retrieval again and disable the option in each account to leave a copy of the messages on the server.

     
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