Get IT Done: Organize account management tasks with Outlook 2002's new features

Account and e-mail service management is easier with Outlook 2002

Outlook 2002, a component application of Microsoft Office XP, adds several new features and changes that make configuring e-mail accounts easier. This latest version of Office really shines in its account integration; you can use a single profile to host several types of accounts, including POP3, IMAP, HTTP (such as Hotmail), and Exchange Server accounts. Here, I’ll give you an overview of Outlook’s architecture and how to install and configure Outlook 2002 to take advantage of specific types of e-mail services.

Unless otherwise noted, I’ll refer to Outlook 2002 as Outlook for the remainder of this Daily Drill Down.

The change in operating modes in Office 2002 is an important difference from previous versions. Before, you could configure Outlook in Corporate/Workgroup, Internet Mail Only, or No Mail modes. Corporate/Workgroup mode supported Exchange Server accounts. Internet Mail Only supported POP3 accounts, and the No Mail mode was for people who used Outlook primarily for scheduling and contact management without e-mail. The new Outlook provides a single unified mode that allows you to work with all types of e-mail accounts in a single profile. For example, you might include an Exchange Server account, two POP3 accounts, an IMAP account, and a Hotmail account all in the same profile. This can simplify working with multiple e-mail accounts.

Outlook messaging overview
You probably have enough exposure to Outlook to know that it functions as a Personal Information Manager (PIM). Outlook comes with an integrated set of features for managing e-mail and faxes, contacts, group scheduling, task management, and other data. It also offers hooks to other features, such as Microsoft’s Instant Messaging, which provides text-based chat across an intranet or the Internet. For example, Outlook works in conjunction with Microsoft MSN Messenger to determine whether the sender of an e-mail message in your Inbox is online and allows you to start a chat session by simply clicking on the message’s header. Outlook also offers support for a wide range of e-mail services, including:
  • Microsoft Exchange Server. When used as a client for Exchange Server, Outlook offers the broadest range of features, including the ability to recall a message after it’s sent, use of public folders, and automatic reply to messages with the Out of Office Assistant. You can connect to an Exchange Server that’s running the Internet Mail connector (or POP3 virtual server, in the case of Exchange 2000 Server) through a POP3 client such as Outlook Express, but doing so limits you to e-mail only and a reduced set of features. Through Outlook Web Access (OWA), you can gain access to your Exchange Server mailbox through a Web browser and have most of the features offered by Outlook.
  • POP3. POP3, which stands for Post Office Protocol 3, is a standards-based protocol that clients can use to access messages from any mail server that supports POP3. Outlook provides full support for POP3 accounts. Most ISPs offer POP3 accounts, although some are migrating to IMAP, instead. Several larger providers, such as CompuServe, offer POP3 access. Note that CompuServe Classic provides POP3 support, while CompuServe 2000 uses IMAP.
  • IMAP. IMAP, which stands for Internet Mail Access Protocol, is a standards-based protocol that enables message transfer. It’s designed primarily as an online protocol, enabling a remote user to manipulate messages and message folders on the server without having to download them. This is particularly helpful for users who need to access the same remote mailbox from multiple locations, such as from home and work, using different computers. The messages remain on the server so IMAP eliminates the need for message synchronization or maintaining multiple offline copies.
  • HTTP-based services. Outlook supports HTTP-based e-mail services, such as Hotmail. The advantage to using Outlook to manage an HTTP-based e-mail account, aside from integrating your contacts and other data in one location, is that Outlook downloads your messages to your local store. This means you can download and process messages offline rather than remain connected to your ISP to process them. If you access the Internet through a metered service, the reduced connect time can offer a significant cost savings. Outlook directly supports Hotmail; other HTTP-based e-mail services can be supported, although this hinges on server-side scripting and programming. In other words, the HTTP-base e-mail service must be designed to work with Outlook.
  • Fax. Outlook can integrate with the Microsoft Fax service included in Windows 2000 to deliver incoming faxes to your Inbox. A received fax appears as a message with an attached TIF file, which contains the fax. Outlook no longer supports the fax service in Windows 9x. However, Outlook can work with third-party fax applications, such as WinFax, that are designed to offer Mail Application Programming Interface (MAPI) support.

Missing from the list of supported e-mail services is Microsoft Mail, which is supported by previous versions of Outlook. Microsoft Mail was integrated in some versions of Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Windows NT. It functions primarily as a folder and file-sharing mechanism that enables users to maintain mailboxes for sending and receiving messages. The fact that Microsoft Mail support was dropped from the new Outlook isn’t surprising given how long in the tooth Microsoft Mail has become.

Understanding Outlook data storage
Before you begin configuring Outlook, you should understand how it stores your data. Outlook uses folders to organize the different types of information you can manage in the program. For example, a default installation includes a selection of message folders (Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items, etc.), a Contacts folder for storing contacts, a Notes folder for storing notes, a Journal folder for storing journal items, and so on. Where Outlook stores these folders depends on the types of accounts you use and how you configure storage.

Your Outlook folders are not stored as individual folders in the file system. Unless you use an Exchange Server account, Outlook stores your Outlook data in a personal folders file with a PST extension. You can use multiple PST files in a single profile, and each PST file appears as a separate set of folders in Outlook.

If you use an Exchange Server account, Outlook stores your folders and data in your mailbox on the server by default. If you also add a set of personal folders (a PST file) to your profile, you can configure Outlook to deliver messages to your PST file rather than to your Exchange mailbox. In most cases, you won’t want to do this because you’ll lose the ability to use certain features, such as the Out of Office Assistant and message recall. Usually, when a profile contains other accounts as well as an Exchange Server account, the Exchange mailbox serves as the storage location for incoming messages, but this means that messages that come in from other, non-Exchange accounts are also stored in your Exchange mailbox. For example, mail that arrives from your personal POP3 account is delivered to your Exchange mailbox. You can configure rules to move messages to your personal folders after they arrive, though.

One other storage possibility with Outlook is the Offline Store, or OST, file. When you use an Exchange Server account, you can configure the account for offline storage. When you do so, Outlook uses a local OST file on your computer to maintain a copy of your Exchange mailbox. The offline file allows you to continue to access your data and create new items, such as new e-mail messages, even when your Exchange Server is unavailable. When you reconnect to the server, Outlook synchronizes the two sets of data. For example, when you create a new e-mail message offline, it goes into the Outbox in your OST file. When you connect to the server, Outlook moves the messages to the Outbox in your Exchange mailbox and the message is delivered.

The default location for local message stores varies slightly according to your operating system. For Windows 9x and Me systems not configured to use profiles, the location is \Windows\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. For 9x/Me systems configured for user profiles, the location for data files is \Profiles\<user>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. The default location for NT systems is \%systemroot%\Profiles\<user>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook, where %systemroot% by default is \Winnt. On Windows 2000 systems, the default location is \Documents and Settings\<user>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. On Windows 2000 systems that were upgraded from Windows NT, the user profiles still reside in the \Winnt\Profiles folder.

Configuring profiles and accounts
Outlook makes it relatively easy to create profiles and add accounts, data files, and services to those profiles. It creates a profile for you automatically the first time you open the program, but you can modify profiles at any time after that. With Outlook closed, right-click the Outlook icon on the desktop and choose Properties, or open the Mail object in the Control Panel. Outlook displays the Mail Setup dialog box for the default profile. Click Show Profiles if you want to work with a different profile or create a new one. Otherwise, to add or modify e-mail accounts, click E-mail Accounts to start the E-mail Accounts wizard.

If you have a non-Exchange account, Outlook allows you to test the account while you’re creating it. The wizard now includes a Test Account Settings button that you can click to test authentication and send a test message to the account. Each account also includes additional settings you can access by clicking the More Settings button. The properties you can set vary by account type. Some of the settings for an Exchange Server account you might want to change include:
  • Connection Settings. The General property page contains several settings that determine the connection state (online or offline) when you start Outlook. Generally, you can leave the account set to automatically detect the connection state. If you work offline frequently, you might prefer to choose the connection state at startup or even configure the account to work offline and use dial-up networking to connect.
  • Open Additional Mailboxes. On the Advanced page, you can specify additional mailboxes to open at startup. This is a handy feature if you have been given delegate access to other users’ mailboxes for monitoring or scheduling purposes.
  • Logon Method. Use the Logon Network Security drop-down list on the Advanced tab to specify how Outlook logs on to your Exchange Server. If the account credentials are the same on your local computer as they are on the server, use Password Authentication. Outlook will automatically use the current logon credentials to authenticate on the mail server. If the credentials are different, select None. Outlook will then prompt you for a user name, password, and domain when connecting to the server.
  • Connection. Use the Connection tab to specify how Outlook should connect to the Exchange Server. Select the LAN option if you connect through your LAN, a broadband Internet connection, or simply want to connect using whatever dial-up connection is currently active. Choose Connect Using My Phone Line if you want to use a specific dial-up connection for the server.

POP/SMTP accounts offer somewhat different settings from an Exchange Server account. If you have used Outlook Express, you’ll be familiar with the majority of these settings. Here are a few settings you might need to change for a POP/SMTP account. To do so, click More Settings from the E-mail Accounts wizard:
  • Account Name And User Information: Use the General page to change the name by which Outlook displays the account. Outlook uses the server name for the account name by default, and you’ll probably want to change the name to something more descriptive. You can also change your reply e-mail address.
  • SMTP Server Settings: If your outgoing mail server doesn’t support mail relay from your IP address but allows relay for users who can authenticate on the server, use the settings on the Outgoing Server to configure the account to use authentication when sending mail.
  • Connection: As with an Exchange Server account, you can use the Connection tab to specify how Outlook should connect to the server, either using the LAN or a specific dial-up connection.
  • Port Settings: Use the Advanced tab to specify the port for the outgoing and incoming mail servers. The default for POP3 is 110; for SMTP, it’s 25. In most cases, you’ll never have to specify different settings.
  • Leave Messages On The Server: Check the Leave A Copy Of Messages On The Server check box on the Advanced tab if you retrieve mail from this account from different computers. Leaving the messages on the server will enable you to see them from either system.

If you have multiple profiles on your system and switch profiles frequently, configure Outlook to prompt you for a profile to use. Open the Mail object in the Control Panel again and click Show Profiles in the Mail Setup dialog box. Select Always Use This Profile, and then select the most frequently used profile from the drop-down list. Select the Prompt For A Profile To Be Used option. Selecting the profile from the drop-down list causes it to be displayed in the Profile Selection dialog box when Outlook starts. In effect, you’re setting the default profile but still asking Outlook to prompt you to verify it or select another. If you use the same profile most of the time, select the option Always Use This Profile, changing this option only when you need to use a different profile.

Understanding and managing data files
Outlook creates data files (sets of personal folders) automatically for certain account types. For example, when you add a Hotmail account, Outlook automatically creates a PST in which to store items for that account. The same is true for IMAP accounts. So, if you have two IMAP accounts and a Hotmail account, you’ll have three separate PST files. Multiple POP3 accounts, however, can share a set of folders.

When you configure accounts, one of the global properties you specify is the default message store, which is where Outlook will deliver new messages. For example, assume you use an Exchange Server account and a POP3 account and have designated the Exchange mailbox as the default store. All messages that come in from your POP3 account will be delivered to your Exchange mailbox. The exception to the default store is HTTP and IMAP accounts, which always deliver messages to their own PST files.

You can add or remove data files when Outlook is not running. Open the Mail object in the Control Panel and click Data Files. The resulting Outlook Data Files dialog box shows all of your current files and their locations. Click Add to add a new set of folders or click Open Folder to open the folder where the selected file is located. This is handy when you’re trying to locate a file or when you need to view the path to the folder but don’t have sufficient room in the Outlook Data Files dialog box to view the entire path.

You don’t have to set many properties for a PST file. In addition to specifying the location and filename, you can specify the following properties:
  • Encryption: If you’re concerned with security, you can specify that Outlook encrypt the contents of the PST file. You can choose between Compressible Encryption, which allows Outlook to compress the PST to save space, or Best Encryption, which offers better security but no compression.
  • Password: You can also password-protect a PST. Outlook will prompt you for the password when you open the PST.

One other property you’ll probably want to tweak when setting up a PST is the name. By default, Outlook gives each PST the name Personal Folders. If you have more than one set in a given profile, this makes it difficult to identify one set of folders from the other. You can change the name in the PST’s properties, which changes the name under which the folder branch appears in Outlook.

Configuring offline storage
One final step to perform when configuring an Exchange Server account is to set it up for offline access by adding an OST file to the profile. Without the OST, you won’t be able to work in Outlook if the server is unavailable. To configure Outlook for offline use, open the account properties for the Exchange Server account and click More Settings. Click the Advanced tab and then click Offline Folder File Settings. If the dialog box includes a Disable Offline Use button, your account is already configured for offline use and the OST file will be listed in the File field. Otherwise, specify a file name for the new file (or accept the name that Outlook suggests) and click OK.

The new Outlook could prove to be a boon for Exchange administrators dealing with troubling account management issues. Outlook’s integration of a single unified mode that allows you to work with all types of e-mail accounts in a single profile is already a big incentive to take a look at this new version. Time will tell whether the features will be enough to entice Exchange administrators to recommend it for their users.

Editor's Picks