Have you noticed an increase in foreign spam recently?

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logoDuring the last month or two I have become aware of a huge increase in the amount of spam getting into my inbox from abroad. Not only is a lot of it not in English, but a lot of it even uses different character sets (such as Chinese characters).

To begin with, I kept asking myself why someone in China would want to spam me in a way that couldn’t possibly benefit them, but then I worked out that it’s probably just the same economics that make any type of spamming worth doing. What it boils down to is that the variable cost of sending a single spam email is almost zero. So much of this is so automated to set up (and virtually costless to distribute) that the only measurable cost of sending spam to 1000 email addresses is the cost of acquiring the addresses. Does it really matter if the response rate is measured in fractions of one percent if the cost of achieving that response rate is even closer to nothing?

Anyway, analysing the economics doesn’t stop the rubbish from pouring in. What can you do about it? Well, if you use what is probably the best email program out there – Microsoft Outlook – then you can block a lot of it from reaching your inbox. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The wording in the Outlook program suggests that you are “blocking” email from reaching you, but in fact it is still being delivered – it just gets automatically diverted away from your inbox and into your Junk folder.

Outlook 2013 Junk Mail Option

Click on the area circled in red to get to the Junk Mail Options menu

This won’t help at all if you don’t use Outlook and it won’t help if you collect your email on several devices – most of them not employing Outlook. Nevertheless, it seems that a lot of people work like me and have one computer, running Outlook, that is the “main hub” of their email activity, so keeping this one email “centre” clean of foreign spam might be worth a few minutes of effort.

So, how do we filter foreign email in Outlook? The example here uses Outlook 2013 but I don’t suppose the earlier versions are very different:

  • Go to the Home tab and click on the icon of the head and shoulders in the Delete group
  • Left-click on the last item in the menu that pops up (Junk Email Options)
  • Left-click on the International tab at the top of the window that has just opened

Blocked Top-Level Domain List

Outlook 2013 Blocked Top-Level Domain ListClicking on this option allows you to block all email that comes from an address that ends in the country code of the place you wish to block. So, for instance, if the sender’s email address is fred@mydomain.af and you have blocked email from Afghanistan’s top-level domain then Fred’s email will be blocked. Note that Fred’s email would not be blocked if his address didn’t end in “.af”, so mail from fred@spamsarus.com would get through even if the email originated in Afghanistan.

It takes a minute or two to work through the list, so it might be quicker to click on the “select all” button and then individually un-select the ones you don’t wish to block.

I’ve done a bit of research to see if adding an email address to your “safe senders” list would take precedence over blocking an entire country’s top-level domain. I couldn’t find a definitive answer so you would need to test it if you wanted, for instance, just one individual email address in India to get through to you.

Blocked Encoding List

Outlook 2013 Blocked Encodings ListThis option doesn’t block email addresses from specific countries, or even block email written in different languages. What it does do, however, is block email written in specific “character sets”. For example, there are two sets of Chinese letters (Traditional and Simplified) that you can block. As another example, you can also block all email written in the Syrillic script.

It would be easy to argue that these filters could be made more sophsiticated, but they are definitely better than nothing. In my own case, I think that the ten minutes I spent setting them up will be more than repaid by not needing to manually delete this foreign spam – especially if the current trend for increasing foreign spam continues.

As a Computer Consultant discussing client’s systems, programs and computing choices, it often strikes me that Microsoft have created a lot of confusion by using the word “Outlook” in the names of three different email products. This confusion is particularly marked, of course, if I’m providing telephone support on one of the “Outlooks” but the client is talking about one product and I’m thinking of another. There’s no point in my asking “which Outlook are you using?” because it would be unreasonable to expect the client to know of all these different animals and to know which one of the three they are using. So, I usually have to ask things like “what does it say on the icon you click to get your email”. Thank goodness for remote control support where I can see what the client can see.

So, let’s just see if we can clarify the situation:

Outlook Express

Outlook Express 6 logoThis was the free email program that formed part of the Windows package right up to, and including, Windows XP. It developed into different versions right up to version 6.

Outlook Express was a program installed on the user’s computer. It provided the functionality to send and receive emails and to store them on the user’s computer. It also had a “newsreader” but I’m not bothered about that as I don’t think I ever came across anyone using it. Email programs (also called email “clients”) need to be set up with the information relating to the user’s email account (such as the names of the email servers, username and password, what type of security there is, and so forth).

Outlook Express was succeeded in 2005 by Windows Mail. Windows Mail came as part of the Windows Vista program. Windows Mail was then superceded by Windows Live Mail. So, for anyone who used Outlook Express in years gone by, the natural successor is now Windows Live Mail. A difference between the two is that the user has to download the Windows Live Mail program (it’s part of the free suite of programs called Windows Essentials). This difference is not caused by technical considerations, but is a result of Microsoft being hauled before the European monopolies authorities. Microsoft had to agree to supply its email program separate from Windows as the bureaucrats decreed that Microsoft had an unfair advantage over other email programs if they installed their own program automatically with Windows. Has it made any difference? I doubt it. It’s very rare, indeed, that I come across anyone using a rival product such as Thunderbird.

Outlook

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo.

Like Outlook Express, Outlook is an email program (aka a “an email client”). However, it is not a free product either as part of a version of Windows or as a separate download. It is a paid-for program that is more robust and much better featured than Windows Live Mail. It comes as part of the Microsoft Office Small Business suite of programs or on its own. Microsoft Outlook costs about £110 when bought on its own.

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far if I suggest that Outlook is the most popular email program for organisations. If you are thinking of buying it, it costs the same to buy on its own as the difference in price between the Office Small Business package and the Office Home and Student package. Click this link for a comparison of Microsoft Office products.

Outlook.com

Outlook.com logoThen the marketing bods at Microsoft seem to have had a collective brainstorm. They announced a web-based email facility that they chose to call Outlook.com. I have no idea why they chose to call a product after a website and I have no idea why they chose to confuse everybody by using the term “Outlook” again, meaning something completely different this time. See this link for more information on Outlook.com.

So, Outlook.com works like a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo account in that you access it via a web browser. All you need to know to access your email is your username and password. Accessing email this way has the advantages that you can access your email from any computer and your data is stored on the server so you don’t need to back it up. The main disadvantages of web-based email are that it can be slower to access, and the functionality of the program is usually simpler than with an email client. To use the vernacular, web-based email is a bit clunky.

So, there you have it, three different approaches to email, all using the same name.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall of a Microsoft marketing meeting…. on second thoughts, maybe I wouldn’t.

Recently, I decided to tidy up my Outlook email folders

Microsoft Outlook 2010 logo

Outlook 2010 logo

This entailed moving lots of sub-folders between folders. You can move a folder (or sub-folder – which simply means a folder that is within another folder) either by “cutting and pasting” it or by simply dragging it from one location to another. The latter is usually easier, but if the list of folders that you have to “drag past” is longer than the screen height available then you have to drag the folder to the bottom of screen and then hope you can keep control as the list of folders scrolls upwards in front of your eyes. Tricky to explain and even trickier to perform.

Exactly the same thing applies, of course, if you need to drag upwards past the top of the screen rather than down past the bottom. The speed at which the column scrolls down or up is, I think, a function of exactly where you stop moving the folder being dragged and also a function of just how long the column is that is being scrolled. All of this makes dragging a folder past the top or bottom of the screen a bit of a hairy process. It’s very easy to let go of the mouse button at the wrong moment – dropping the folder in the wrong place.

If this only happened when moving folders around in Outlook then I wouldn’t bother telling you all this, but it also happens in other programs, so this bit of advice will, hopefully, have wider use (in Windows Explorer, for instance).

So, is there an easier way to re-organise files and folders when the list is longer than the screen?

Well, the answer seems to be “maybe” – depending on the program you are using. If you can open two windows, side by side, with each showing the same thing, then there is probably an easier way:

  • Start in the “destination” window by displaying the part of the list where you wish to deposit the folder (or file)
  • Click on the other window and navigate to the folder (or file) to be moved
  • Drag the folder or file across the boundary between the two windows and let go at the appropriate position

2 Microsoft Outlook Windows side by side

It is easier to drag between windows than dragging off the bottom of a single window.

Using this method, the scrolling to the destination has been completely separated from the dragging of the file/folder. Much easier. It probably wouldn’t be worth setting up windows side by side if you are only intending to move one or two folders or files around, but it’s definitely worth it if you are doing some more substantial re-organising.

How do you open the second window?

  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Right-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)
  • Left-click on the program name that appears in the list

Alternatively:

  • Start by opening the first “instance” of the program in the usual way
  • Shift-click on the icon of the program that is now present on the task bar (the bar at the bottom of the screen)

Microsoft Outlook 2013 logo

Outlook 2013 logo. Why did they change it from yellow to blue?

Whether you can open the same program in two different windows at the same time seems to depend on the program. The above works for Outlook, but I couldn’t get Windows Mail to open in two different windows. Every time I tried to open a second window, the focus (ie the cursor) just moved into the existing window. I wondered if it would work in Gmail (webmail), but you can’t drag anything out of the original window.

I haven’t yet experimented to see if this tip is useful when using a Mac, but it’s my guess that it’s likely to be useful in that parallel universe also.

By the way, at the same time as playing around with multiple windows, I also had another look to see if there is any way of selecting more than one folder at once in Outlook so that they could be moved in a single action. Not only could I not find a method, but I came across a special utility that appears to be written solely to solve this problem. This suggests, of course, that there isn’t an obvious method within Outlook that I am missing. The utility can be found at http://pandali.com/pfm.html. It costs $29 but there’s a 30 day free trial.

One more tip when cleaning up Outlook folders

If you wish to delete a complete folder of emails in Outlook then the program gets a bit solicitous and asks whether you are sure. This can get tedious after a while so, if you are doing a major clean-up involving the deletion of lots of folders then a more efficient way is to drag those folders into a special folder (that I call “Doomed” because it sounds so wonderfully dramatic – yes, I need to get out more). When the re-organising is complete, just delete the “Doomed” folder. That way, you only need to confirm the action once. This tip would also work when cleaning up normal files and folders in Windows Explorer.

Have you ever had trouble sending a large email attachment? If you try to send an attachment that is too big then you may find that it bounces back to you (ie you receive a message saying that the message could not be delivered). The limiting factor may be in the recipient’s email system or in a system that the email (with attachment) has passed through on the way to the recipient.

You are not likely to encounter this problem if you are just sending average-sized spreadsheets, word processing documents or pdf files, but “media files” such as video clips, sound files, and many high-resolution picture files can very easily be far too big to send as attachments.

Emailing large attachmentsHow do I know the size of an attachment? This depends on the email system you are using. In Hotmail, for example, after you have added the attachment to the email you can hover your mouse over the attachment and a small box will pop up that includes the file size (eg 273kb). With most other systems the size of the attachment is shown in brackets after the name of the attachment.

What is the maximum size of an attachment? Hotmail is supposed to be able to receive 10mb attachments, Yahoo and Gmail have a limit of 25mb. These are all webmail systems. If you are using POP-based email (eg you check your email using Outlook or Windows Live Mail) then there is probably a limit set by the email servers you are using. If you have your own domain name then you are probably using your domain host’s email servers. Otherwise, you will be using your ISP’s servers. The limit they impose can be as low as 5mb. Also, the theoretical limit of a Gmail attachment is 25mb but the actual file sent through cyberspace is larger than your original file by up to about 20% so Gmail’s actual maximum is probably nearer to 20mb. Anyway, even if you know the limits of your own system, that doesn’t help in telling you what your correspondent can receive as that depends on their system rather than yours. Personally, I would not assume that an attachment of over 5mb is going to go through without trouble. I always check with the recipient that they have received anything I have sent bigger than 5mb. Note: there are 1024kb in 1mb, so if your attachment size is expressed in kb rather than mb then anything less than about 5000kb is less than 5mb and will probably be delivered without problem.

What can I do if my attachment is too big? There are several options:

  • split the file up into smaller pieces. There is software available for splitting and rejoining files. I don’t recommend this method.
  • compress the file into a (smaller) zip file. This can work very well for some file types (eg tif files) but not have very much effect on others (eg jpg picture files, that are already optimised for the trade-off between size and quality). Zip files are a good idea, by the way, if you are sending many attachments as they can all be sent in one zip file for unpacking at the recipient’s end.
  • use an online service such as www.goaruna.com

Using GoAruna, you don’t even have to register if you just wish to send a single file. All you need to do is enter your own and the recipient’s email addresses and upload the file you wish to attach. The recipient is then sent an email with a link so that they can download the file. Although there is a time limit (seven days) on the availability of the download, this method does have the advantage that the download is under the control of the recipient. This can be better than having their email system tied up while a large attachment download takes place (although this is becoming less important as internet connections become faster). A single file sent this way by GoAruna can be up to 100mb. By registering with Aruna, you can also have 2gb of online storage. This can be used for backups and/or making files available to other people that may otherwise have needed to be sent as email attachments. Note: just as there are 1024kb in 1mb, there are 1024mb in 1gb.

There are other services similar to GoAruna. You may like to look at these:

http://www.yousendit.com
http://www.gigasize.com/index.php

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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