Software

Creating an Outlook Express killer the StarOffice way, part 1

Bryan Pfaffenberger thinks StarMail could be an Outlook Express killer, but some functions need to be more convenient. He has tips and tricks for StarMail users in this Daily Drill Down.


If Linux is going to conquer the desktop, it's going to need an Outlook Express killer. After all, Outlook Express is by far the most widely used e-mail and PIM utility worldwide, and it's one of the reasons people cling to their Windows desktops. An OE killer for Linux would need to conveniently integrate e-mail, personal information management (including contact management), and scheduling into an easy-to-use, GUI-based package. Please note the word conveniently; I'm perfectly aware that you can do all of this right now with pine, Emacs, or elm, but let's get real. We're talking about migrating users from Windows or Mac OS to Linux here, and text-based utilities, glorious as they may be, aren't going to cut it. Eventually, Helix Code may produce a winner with Evolution, but it's going to take a couple of years to bring this complex project to fruition.

For now, there's StarOffice. As you'll learn in this series of Daily Drill Downs, StarOffice does indeed have what it takes to knock off OE. The program's StarMail and StarSchedule modules are full-featured, well designed, and—once they're configured properly—fully the equal of OE's most popular features. What's tough is the configuration part. I readily concede that StarOffice's interface can be absolutely maddening: It's easy enough to figure out how to do most basic tasks, but others—including things you ought to be able to do easily—seem to have been purposefully obscured in order to induce the maximum possible user frustration. If you think this is an overstatement, you haven't used StarOffice.

But don't count StarOffice out. What's been missing from StarOffice is any sort of reliable information on how to configure StarMail and StarSchedule without wasting days searching the newsgroups for a solution. And that's the whole point of this series. What's covered in this Daily Drill Down, and the ones to come, are only those configuration tasks that fulfill the following criteria:
  1. You need to do these darned tasks—they're part of the intermediate skill set that defines a successful e-mail/PIM user.
  2. There's no obvious way to figure out how to do these tasks. Believe me, you can spend hours trying to find the appropriate command or option, but nothing works. The newsgroups are full of pathetic pleas for help on these tasks—followed, generally, by angry messages from people who have given up on StarOffice.

In what follows, I'll reveal the deepest mysteries of StarOffice's mail and scheduling utilities. You'll learn how to configure StarOffice so that it functions very nicely as an OE replacement. Whether you use what you learn to configure StarOffice for other users or for yourself, you're sure to be pleased with the results. And once you've configured StarOffice as these Daily Drill Downs suggest, you won't feel so frustrated using the program. In fact, I think you'll actually like it!

Caveat emptor
Please note that this article is designed for system and network administrators with a reasonable amount of technical expertise, so I'm not going to waste your time with stuff that's easy or relatively easy to do, such as installing StarOffice, setting up a basic POP3 or IMAP connection, and choosing basic defaults for mail messaging. In this series, I'll focus on the stuff that you should be able to do with a good mail/PIM/schedule package—and you actually can do with StarOffice if you could only figure out how.

Also, note that this Daily Drill Down pertains only to version 5.2 of StarOffice. If you're using a previous version, you should upgrade; version 5.2 is much less buggy than previous versions, and it's the first version that can handle IMAP mail without going berserk. If you're upgrading, note that some 5.2 users have had a miserable time upgrading on top of the existing 5.1 folder; it's best to install 5.2 in a fresh, new folder or, better yet, back up your personal files and nuke the 5.1 folder completely.

Adding your signature automatically to new messages
Wait a minute, you're probably thinking. This is bogus. This guy's going to show me how to add my signature to a new e-mail message automatically? That's easy! Ha! You think so? Tell you what. You go try it. Go ahead, do it.

Back, huh? It's dumbfounding, but StarOffice 5.2 provides no means to add a signature to a new e-mail message automatically—and my authority on this is none other than Using StarOffice by Michael Koch and Sarah Murray, the best of the current crop of StarOffice titles. You'll also find dozens of anguished posts on the newsgroups concerning this topic. But there is a way. You can enter your signature in a new mail document with reasonable ease by using AutoText, as the next section explains, but you can also modify StarOffice so that the program automatically creates a new mail message containing your signature.

Adding a signature with AutoText
Choose Edit | AutoText, browse for the Signature files, and you'll see that StarOffice has constructed a number of rather unattractive-looking signatures, using the information you supplied—or didn't supply—-in Tools | Options | General | User Data.

You can manually insert one of these signatures by choosing Edit | AutoText, selecting a signature, and clicking Insert; alternatively, you can type the signature's abbreviation in a new, blank message and press [F3]. But then again, you probably don't want to give out your home phone number on Usenet postings, do you? You could create your own AutoText for this purpose (in the AutoText dialog box, select one of the existing signature files, click AutoText, and choose Edit).

Adding a signature automatically
In this section, you'll learn how to modify StarMail so that the program will open a new mail message with a personal or business signature.

To add a personal or business signature to new messages automatically, do the following:
  1. Choose File | New/Mail. You'll see a new, blank mail message.
  2. Press [Enter] a few times and type a signature for personal messages.
  3. On the main toolbar, choose the settings you'd like as defaults for new mail messages. For example, you can click the AutoSpellCheck button to turn on automatic spell checking.
  4. Choose File | Save As. You'll see the Save As dialog box.
  5. Navigate to the Office 5.2 directory and open the share/config/new folder.
  6. Save the message using the following filename:
_22_M~ail with Personal Signature

Here's what the funny formatting means:
  • _22_ determines the position of the item in the File | New menu. The lower the number, the higher the item on the menu.
  • ~ indicates that the following character should be underlined in the menu.
  1. Press [Enter] somewhere in the message so that you can save the file again. Choose File | Save As and save the file to share/config/start, using exactly the same filename.
  2. Now repeat steps two through seven, except type a business signature (step two), and save the file using the following filename:
    _23_Mail with ~Business Signature
  3. Close the message.

You should now find the options you created on the File | New and Start menus. Try choosing one of these options; you'll see your message, with the signature included, and StarOffice doesn't even crash!

Note that this isn't a complete solution; you'll still get the same old, blank mail message—with no signature—when you click the New Mail button on the toolbar or choose Mail from the Click & Go menu. There's a way to modify these also, but I'd suggest leaving them alone; after all, there are times that you want to send a message without a signature.

Specifying the format for reply messages
When you reply to an e-mail message, StarMail uses one of the following files to determine the settings, default text, and formats for reply messages:
  • office52/share/config/template/internal/rplymail If you choose HTML as the default mail format in Tools | Options | Internet | Mail & News, this file determines the format for replies.
  • office52/share/config/template/internal/rplytext If you deselect all the message formatting options in the Text Format area of the Mail & News page of the Tools | Options dialog box, this file determines the format for replies.

To customize the format for replies, do the following:
  1. In the StarOffice Explorer, double-click the link to office52/share/config/template/internal. You'll see the contents of this folder.
  2. Right-click rplymail or rplytext and choose Edit Template from the pop-up menu. You'll see the file in StarWriter.
  3. Note that the message contains text that is inserted into the message describing the date and time of the original message, the message's author, and the subject. When you reply to a message, these items are inserted one after the other, adjacent to the punctuation marks. In the text-reply template, the order of insertion is as follows: date, time, author, and subject. For example, if rplytext contains the following
    On , at precisely , made the following profound statements about :
    a reply will contain something like the following
    On 11/15/00, at precisely 7:58 A.M., Joe Schmoe made the following profound statement about Make Money Fast:
  4. Make the changes you want to the text that's automatically inserted. If you're modifying rplymail, you can choose formats also.
  5. Click Save and close the template.

Importing mail from almost any mail client (really!)
StarMail's documentation makes much of the fact that the program can import Outlook Express (version 4) mail, which is of obvious benefit to users of the Windows version. The Linux version can import OE 4 mail too, and if you're willing to suffer through a crash or two, you can even import OE 5 mail. (When I attempted this undocumented and nonrecommended maneuver, StarOffice indeed died—but not until the import of all the OE 5 mail was completed. When I restarted the program, I found that the import had succeeded.) In addition, StarMail can import Netscape Messenger (version 4) mailboxes. Completely undocumented, but nonetheless fully implemented, is the capability to import mail from just about any Linux mail client that uses standard mail file formats, including KMail, Mahogany, Spruce, pine, elm, and the utilities that write to /var/spool/mail.

If you're planning to import mail from a Windows system or partition, note the following:
  • To import mail from Microsoft Outlook, begin by importing it into Outlook Express—preferably, version 4 of Outlook Express.
  • In current versions of Windows, the OE mail files are stored in c:\windows\application data\Outlook Express\Mail, but this location has changed and will change. (Apparently, Microsoft thinks it's a wonderful idea to place copies of gargantuan mail files hither, thither, and yon until your drive mysteriously runs out of disk space.) If the location isn't obvious, search for *.mbx files.
  • Make the directory containing the *.mbx files accessible via the network so that StarOffice can access them or copy them to the Linux system.
You must import mail into a properly configured POP3 inbox. You can't import mail into an IMAP mailbox or an ordinary folder.
To import mail folders, do the following:
  1. In StarOffice, display Explorer and choose the E-Mail & News group. Right-click a POP3 mail folder and choose File | Import.
  2. In the Import dialog box, click File Type and choose All.
  3. Locate the mailbox you want to import.
  4. Click Import.

StarOffice imports the mail into the selected POP3 folder.

Creating multiple mail accounts
If you set up an e-mail account with the Internet Setup AutoPilot, which appears automatically the first time you start StarOffice, you'll already have one mail account properly set up. (If you didn't run this wizard, you can do so by choosing File | AutoPilot | Internet Setup.) These days, many people have more than one e-mail account. In this section, you'll learn how to set up two or more—as many as you like.

To create a new mail account, do the following:
  1. Display Explorer, if necessary, and choose the E-Mail & News group.
  2. Right-click the background of the E-Mail & News group area, point to New, and choose one of the following: POP3 Account, IMAP Account, or VIM Account. You'll see the Properties dialog box for the type of account you're creating.
  3. Choose General and provide a name for the account.
  4. Choose Server or Receive and specify the IP address of the server, your username, and your password.
  5. Click Send and specify how you want outgoing mail to be sent. To use the default mail sending settings found in Tools | Options | Internet | E-Mail & News, just accept the default settings. To send mail through a different server, check User Defined Settings and click the button with the same name. Supply the settings you want and click OK.
  6. Choose Contents and check the update options you want.
  7. Click OK to confirm the new account.
If you used the above instructions to create your first e-mail account with this copy of StarOffice, you'll also need to create an Outbox to hold copies of your sent mail. To do so, right-click the background of the E-Mail & News group, point to New, and choose Outbox. Accept the default mail-sending information (unless you want to change it) and click OK.
Creating multiple views of your sent mail
If you send voluminous amounts of mail, as I do, you'll be pleased to learn that StarMail enables you to create multiple Outboxes, each of which can contain filters that show you only those sent messages that meet criteria you specify. True to StarOffice form, the way this is handled is a bit confusing. In reality, there's really only one Outbox, and its settings do not determine how the mail is actually sent; these are specified by the mail inboxes you create for each account. (If you change the mail-sending settings in an Outbox, what are altered are the default settings that appear in Tools | Options | Internet | Mail & News.) Still, multiple Outboxes give you a way to group and quickly view all the mail you’ve sent to certain correspondents or within a specified time period. Try it!

To create an additional Outbox, do the following:
  1. Open Explorer, if necessary, click E-Mail & News, and right-click the background.
  2. Point to New and choose Outbox.
  3. In the Properties Of Outbox dialog box, choose General and type a name for the Outbox, such as Mail to Jane or Recently Sent Mail.
  4. Choose Rules.
  5. In the Condition list box, choose a matching condition for the files you want to display in this Outbox. For example, choose To if you are creating an Outbox to show just the mail sent to one of your correspondents. Next to the Condition list box, choose the matching condition you want. For example, to match a Date condition, you can choose Newer Than to match all those messages newer than a specified number of days.
  6. In the Expression list box, type or select the matching condition. Just what you do here depends on which type of condition you selected. To match a To condition, type an e-mail address. To specify a Date condition with the Newer Than condition, type or select a number of days.
  7. Click Add.
  8. If you would like to specify additional rules, repeat steps five through seven.
  9. Click OK to confirm the new rule.

Customizing mail folder columns
In the various mail folders you've created, you'll notice that StarOffice automatically creates certain column headers, which are visible in the folder's Detail view (the default). If you're not happy with the columns or their arrangement or would like to add additional columns, you can do so—again, by using an unobvious technique that you'd only discover if you went around right-clicking everything in sight. (That's how I found it!)
  • To remove a column, right-click the column header and click Remove.
  • To add a column header, right-click a column header button, click Insert, and choose the column header from the list. The new column header appears to the right of the existing column.
  • You can change the width of the columns by dragging the boundaries between the column header buttons. To size a column to its optimal width given its contents, right-click the column header button and choose Optimal Width.

Conclusion
That's enough for this session! Already, you've learned how to do things with StarMail that are widely, if incorrectly, thought to be either impossible or ridiculously difficult. In the next Daily Drill Down, you'll continue to learn more amazing arts. Specifically, you'll learn how to write rules that will divert mail to mail folders other than the default inboxes—and without shredding them, deleting them beyond recovery, or accidentally posting them to alt.binaries.hamsters.duct-tape (with your boss's name as the sender, of course). Until then, have fun and enjoy StarOffice!
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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