Do you ever feel that the tech giants are ganging up on you?

David and GoliathA few days ago, a client called me to say that Thunderbird (her email program) was reporting an error in sending/receiving emails. The problem appeared to be that the password was incorrect. After a short conversation, we decided that I would have a look at it using remote support. No luck. Teamviewer wasn’t showing her an ID or a password that she could give to me to effect the connection. So, we agreed that a visit would be necessary.

The next day, after “hhmming and aahing” over Thunderbird settings for a few minutes, it dawned on me to wonder if the problem might not, in fact, be with the Gmail account rather than Thunderbird. Luckily, the client stays logged into gmail via her browser. This proved that the account itself was still OK and it also allowed me to check the setting that allows “less secure apps” (as Gmail terms them) to access Gmail. And, blow me, the setting had been turned off. So we turned it back on. By this time (as is often the case) the situation regarding the actual password had become very confused, so we changed the password, entered it into Thunderbird, and all was well again.

Why had Google changed the setting to block Thunderbird? Why hadn’t they told my client? Who knows?

On/Off SwitchAnyway, buoyed up by success, we turned to Teamviewer to find out why it hadn’t worked the previous day. Clearly, my purple patch continued as I thought to ask her if her internet provider is TalkTalk. Yes, it is. Ho hum. I recently blogged about their blocking Teamviewer in their setting called “scam protection”. So, we logged onto the “dashboard” of her TalkTalk account and, yes, they had turned “scam protection” on! I can’t remember when I had last used Teamviewer with this client, but TalkTalk have clearly changed the setting back to blocking it since we had last used it. And, just like Google, they did this without any reference to the client.

And it gets worse…..

When I wrote my recent blog, it was possible to change the setting in the dashboard. Now, however, a popup window tells you you have to phone them.

… much worse…

You can't even turn off TalkTalk's "Scam Protection" yourself nowWhen you try to call them, the phone is answered by a computer. There is no list of options: you just state the problem. The computer doesn’t understand the problem and starts taking wild guesses about your “issue”. You can even quote the wording from their popup (“Scam protection setting”) and it won’t understand. Eventually, we gave up with my client saying she would try again later. This she did and ultimately managed to get through to a human being by just refusing to engage with the computer. She just kept shtum until a human being finally came onto the line. Said human being actually managed to find other humans working for TalkTalk and my client was eventually put through to someone who was able to change the setting. Lo and behold, we were able to connect remotely again using Teamviewer.

There isn’t any kind of recourse that users have when these tech firms do things like this (whether they do it intentionally or as an unwanted side effect of other changes). It is very very dispiriting, disempowering, and unfair.

If you get locked out of your Google account you could lose all your email history

Google - letter GIn recent years, Google have become much more insistent (to the point of irritation) that you provide “recovery information” so that you can get back into your account if you lose your password or if your account is hacked.

Nevertheless, it is still possible that you could lose access to the account – and what about if Google were to have a huge brainstorm and lose/delete/mangle your data? Admittedly, this is very unlikely, but it is not impossible.

Save Google DataIf you have emails in your Gmail account that you really wouldn’t want to lose, it makes sense to have a backup copy. Luckily, Google makes this possible without having to get too technical about it. Indeed, you can take a backup copy of ALL data that Google holds for your Gmail account. It’s probably not something you would want to do every week, but it makes sense to do it every now and again if you would suffer by losing any of the data.

This is how it is done:

  • If you are not already signed into your Google account, then do so. Possibly the easiest way to do this is to go to the Google search page and click on the “sign in” button at the top right of the window.
  • Go to the “Download your data” page –
  • By default, the data contained in all of Google’s products will be selected for download. There’s no need to de-select any of the options, but do scroll down to the mail data (near the end of the list) and ensure that it is ticked. By the by, it is quite sobering to see how many Google products there are in which your personal data may be stored – 50 at the moment!
  • Click on “Next Step”.
  • Under “Export type”, choose either a one-off download or schedule downloads every two months for a year.
  • Leave “File type” as zip (unless you know you want tgz).
  • Choose a different archive file size if desired (but it’s probably OK as 2gb).
  • Click on “Create archive”.
  • Log out of your Gmail account (if desired) by clicking on the round coloured circle at the top right of the windows and then click on “sign out”.
  • You will shortly receive an email from Google telling you that an archive has been scheduled.
  • When the archive is ready, you will receive another email from Google with a link to “Download archive”. Click on this link and follow the instructions.

Gmail logoThe zip file that you receive will contain your email in the “mbox” format. You may – or may not – feel the need to check that it does, in fact, contain your email. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details of how you read mbox files, but here are some pointers:

  • If you use a Mac, mbox files can be opened directly by the Mac’s native Mail program.
  • If you use Windows, you can download a free program called Mboxviewer to read the contents of your archive.
  • You can import mbox files into the Thunderbird email program.

Does Gmail shut you out of your own email when you check it outside your own home?

Gmail iconI have heard from several IT Support clients about Gmail’s overzealous (and, some might say, incompetent) behaviour when they take their laptop to somewhere other than home – to a weekend cottage, for example – and then try to connect to their Gmail account using a program such as Outlook.

Just because you are signing on from a different IP address, Gmail jumps to the completely erroneous assumption that you are someone else who is trying to access your email. Come on, Gmail, get a grip. It’s much much more likely that you are yourself signing in via a different connection than that you are someone else (If you want to know what IP addresses are, by the way, try this link).

And what is the result of this mistake? Gmail won’t let you sign in to your own email. Yes, there is a method to recover from this that probably involves the phone that Google associates with that Gmail account, but it can take Google hours to contact that phone and the whole process is frustrating.

The offical Google recommendation for avoiding this problem is to enable 2-step verification, but most people that I know think that life is complicated enough already without having to enter a code sent to your mobile phone EVERY TIME you want to log into your email.

I can’t understand why Google have never allowed us to tell them IP addresses that it can definitely assume are “safe” (such as the IP address of the internet connection at a weekend cottage, for instance).

Anyway, there is actually a method of overcoming this problem but you might think it is a little drastic. It comes in the form of a setting that, when activated, causes Gmail to ignore ALL activity that it might consider “suspicious” for that Gmail account. This setting is not that easy to find. There’s no point in looking in Gmail’s “Settings” for it (presumably because Google don’t want us to find it and have only included it reluctantly).

What you have to do is as follows:

  • Sign into your Gmail webmail
  • Look to the bottom righthand side of the inbox. You should see the text “Last account activity: xx minutes ago”. Underneath that there is a link called “Details”. If none of this text is present, I have found that it appears if you just send an email to yourself, log out of Gmail, and then log back in again.
  • Click on the link called “Details”
  • A window opens headed “Activity on this account”. Scroll down this window to the section headed “Alert preference”
  • Click on the link “Change”
  • Click on the circle to the left of “Never show an alert for unusual activity” and click on “Apply”
  • Confirm this choice by clicking on “Disable Alerts”
  • Close any open windows and wait a week for Google to switch off “Unusual Activity” alerts
Gmail account - activity link

Click on “Details”

Gmail account - change Alert Preference

Click on “Change”

Gmail account - turn off alerts for unusual activity

Click on the circle to the left of “Never”

Most people these days have several email accounts

Locked mailboxTypically, most people have one or more “proper” accounts and one or more accounts that are used for less important stuff and for situations where they have been compelled to give an email address but haven’t wanted to give their “proper” one (perhaps because of fears of getting “spammed”).

It can be rather tedious having to log onto several different webmail sites to check all these accounts separately – especially if it’s just on the off-chance that there’s something new and important to be read. One of the benefits of using an email “client” (as opposed to using webmail) is the ability to add all your email accounts to the same place so that you can check all accounts at the same time instead of having to log onto different webmail sites.

Gmail iconHowever, if you try to add your Gmail account or your Yahoo account to Outlook or Thunderbird then it probably won’t work (initially). What’s more, you don’t get any proper indication as to why it doesn’t work. Instead, you will get misleading error messages suggesting that either your username or your password is incorrect. You may not even discover the reason by looking for help on the email provider’s website. Perhaps I should clarify that “Outlook” in this context means the email program from Microsoft and not the webmail service called

The reason it won’t work is almost certainly that your webmail provider thinks that the email program that you are using is “less secure” than using webmail and that it won’t allow the connection to be made until you explicitly instruct the webmail provider to connect your account to programs such as Outlook.

Yahoo Mail iconThe way that you do this is by opening up your webmail and looking in “Settings” (or “Options”) for a setting that says something to the effect of “allow less secure applications to access your email”. I know that this is the case for both Yahoo and Gmail and suspect that it may apply to other webmail setups. Below are instructions for changing the settings in Yahoo and Gmail. Hopefully, if you use a different webmail service, there is enough information here for Yahoo and Gmail for you to be able to find the equivalent setting in your own setup. After you have changed this setting, then go back to Outlook (or Thunderbird or whatever) and try again to set the account up there. It should then connect with no further bother.

In Yahoo, log into your webmail as normal and then:

  • Click on the cogwheel located at top right of your Yahoo webmail screen
  • Click on “Account Info”
  • Click on “Account Security” at the left of the screen
  • Jump through any security hoops that it sets up for you (such as making near impossible decisions about which squares on an image “include traffic signs”)
  • Go down to the last item on the screen (“Allow apps that use less secure sign in”) and slide the switch to the “on” position
  • Go back to Outlook (or Thundebird or whatever) and enter the account info again

In Gmail, log into your webmail in the normal way and then:

  • Click on the Settings cogwheel (near top right of screen)
  • Click on the “Settings” option
  • Click on the tab marked “Forwarding and POP/IMAP”
  • Under “IMAP access”, click the circle next to “Enable IMAP”
  • At the bottom of the list of options, click on “Save changes”
  • Go back to Outlook (or Thunderbird or whatever) and enter the account info again

Google can prevent you from accessing your own email if it thinks your email program is “less secure”

I have blogged before about email programs that can’t access your email and that try to insist that your password is wrong when you are quite sure that it isn’t. See “Oh dear – error“, for instance.

One of the situations that causes this completely misleading error message is if Google decides that you are using what it terms a “less secure” program to access your Gmail. It doesn’t say what your program is “less secure than” and it doesn’t tell you that this is why it won’t let you in. All it does is tell you that your password is incorrect.

Some circumstances that can definitely cause this are if you use:

  • The Mail program on an iPhone or iPad with an IOS version of earlier than 6
  • The Mail program on a Windows phone with a version earlier than 8.1
  • The Thunderbird or, believe it or not, Outlook email programs (including Outlook 2016 – the latest version)

Fig 1 - Accessing Google Account Info

Fig 1 – accessing “My Account” in Google

There is, however, a fairly simple way of rectifying the situation. Simple, that is, if you know how to navigate the seemingly Kafkaesque options in your Google account as accessed via a web browser.

So, until they mess around again with how your account information and options are presented, here are the steps you need to take to access your gmail by one of the aforementioned “less secure” methods:

  • Open a web browser
  • Log into your google account at
  • Click on the circle at top right and click on “My Account” (see Fig 1)
  • Click on “Sign-in & security” (see Fig 2)
  • Scroll down until you see the box that includes “Allow less secure apps”
  • Click the “switch” to the right-hand (“on”) position (see Fig 3)
  • Sign out of the account (if desired) by clicking on the circle at top right and then clicking on “sign out” (see Fig 1)

Fig 2 - Sign in and security

Fig 2 – Click here

You may think that this couldn’t possibly be the cause of an email access problem today (or tomorrow) as it worked perfectly well yesterday, so why shouldn’t it work today? Because Google are quite capable of moving the goalposts overnight and they are not going to tell you if they do that. You just have to find out for yourself.

In fact, exactly this same thing happened to a computer support client of mine about this time last year. One minute the email was arriving perfectly happily on her iPhone and the next it wasn’t. I should point out here that my own strong advice is to keep up to date with IOS versions. Apart from anything else, it can take a long time to update everything all at once and it’s far easier (and keeps your device safer) to keep it relatively up to date all the time.

Fig 3 - allow less secure apps

Fig 3 – click to the right of the round “knob” to “slide” the switch to the right (“on”) position. It’s no good trying to “drag” the knob to the right: it doesn’t work.

Anyway, in this specific instance the client chose to force Google to accept a connection to a “less secure app”, so we took that route and all was quickly resolved.

So, if your email program suddenly tells you that your password is wrong and it’s a Gmail account that’s involved, do remember to ask yourself whether Google may have moved the goalposts again when it comes to what it considers “less secure apps”.

Yes, it’s that time of year when I congratulate myself on completing another year of weekly blogs

4 years of blog posts

So what’s happened during that year?

November 2013a year of Windows 8.1

Hard to believe that it’s a whole year since Windows 8.1 was released. It’s still with us and I still maintain that it’s not as bad as a lot of people think.

Homer and Windows 8.1December 2013more on Windows 8.1

I said that I didn’t care about the tiled apps in windows 8 and none my clients’ needs have pushed me into spending much time on them in the year that has followed. A client recently asked me if it is a good idea to buy a Windows mobile phone and I had to reply that, even if he does like the tiled apps, he might be better off with an Android phone or an iPhone as the developers of “apps” don’t yet seem to think it’s essential for them to develop Windows versions.

Figures released in June by Statista show the number of apps on the major “platforms” as

  • Google Play (Android) – 1,300,000
  • iPhone – 1,200,000
  • Windows Mobile – 300,000

January 2014making your computer sleep-friendly

I am still a big fan of using f.lux to automatically reduce the blue light emitted from a computer screen in the evening. Whether or not it does actually help in getting to sleep, f.lux certainly makes a computer screen easier to look at in the evening with tired eyes.

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP - screen capture from MicrosoftFebruary and April 2014Windows XP is still with us

There’s no sign of XP disappearing just yet. Some of my clients are still using it and I came across it in a local medical centre last week. We haven’t yet seen a massive attack on XP computers, but I still think it’s very likely to happen. If you are still using XP then I urge you to make sure you are taking regular backups of things you can’t afford to lose. See this link as well.

February 2014
PC World

in this blog I said that the service in PC World may be getting better. I was dis-abused of this notion last week when trying to buy a Microsft Surface Pro 3. For some odd reason, John Lewis aren’t stocking the model I want. My saga with PC World went as follows:

  • Oxford Street branch – hadn’t got the machine and they said their Tottenham Court Road branch hadn’t got it either
  • Tottenham Court Road – despite advice from Oxford Street, they did have it – but no matching keyboard/cover
  • Kensington High Street – they told me I needed to have it specially made to order as it isn’t a standard model (huh?)
  • Brixton – their website said they had it but they hadn’t
  • Old Kent Road – success!

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

This is getting silly

February 2014a cleaner desktop

My Windows desktop is still cleaner than it used to be. I now just periodically dump every icon I’ve not used recently into a folder of un-used icons that sits on the desktop. I don’t agonise over which ones to move: I just move nearly all of them. They’re easy enough to fetch back out of the folder, but I rarely need to. Very therapeutic having an uncluttered desktop.

March 2014Windows 8 File History

I still think this inbuilt backup routine is better than nothing, but I was disappointed to find that it can’t be used to automatically create backups to OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service).

April 2014Faststone Image Viewer

I continue to recommend this to my Windows computer support clients and to install it for them. It may not be cutting edge software, but it makes photo viewing and editing a lot easier and more intuitive than Picasa. Get Faststone Image Viewer from here.

May 2014closing my LinkedIn account

I’m still thinking of closing this account. I am certainly not going to sign into any other account by using my Linked In credentials as I do not trust Linked In not to steal the data that would then be open to them.

Gmail LogoAugust 2014Gmail shortcuts

Do you use gmail’s webmail interface? Try using some shortcuts

September 2014the new “.london” domain

Maybe I got off the mark too soon when I changed from to . There are some places in cyberspace that refuse to accept that an email address ending in “.london” is genuine. It looks as if some web programmers need to re-visit the validation routines on their website forms. This is going to become a bigger problem for them as more and more domain suffixes are released. Did you know, for instance, that the following are all new domain suffixes – .mail, .club, .training, .marketing, .photography?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileOctober 2014the Microsoft Surface

As mentioned above, I’ve gone and got one (despite PC World’s best efforts to quash any impulse buying). Haven’t yet had time to install everything, but it’s definitely a very nice machine. I was right about the small screen, though. I don’t think I could use it for very long towards the end of the day if I hadn’t got a pair of glasses specifically optimised for reading at the distance of a computer screen.

October 2014 Windows 10 Technical Preview

If you’ve heard bad things about Windows 8 then you probably need to hold out for about 10 months before buying your next computer if you want to avoid Windows 8 altogether. It’s likely that 2-3 months before that you will be able to buy a Windows 8 machine with a voucher for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it is released.

That’s it, then. On to year five…

Do you use Gmail in your browser?

Gmail LogoI’ve said previously that I don’t think it’s worth learning loads of shortcut keys. This is for two reasons:

  • Unless you use them all the time it’s very easy to forget them
  • Different shortcut key combinations do different things in different programs, so it’s very easy to get confused

However, if you only use a few different programs (eg a web browser, an email program, a picture viewer, and a word processing program) then it may be worth latching on to a few important shortcuts that might become second nature if you use them often enough. If you become familiar with important keyboard shortcuts, then your typing will become more efficient as it is quicker to type a shortcut than it is to grab the mouse and click on a command that might be available on-screen. With that in mind, I’ve been looking at the shortcuts that are available in Gmail’s webmail program.

Some of these are always available and are the same as in Microsoft Word and other programs. These include:

Ctrl + b to turn on bold type.
Ctrl + i to turn on italicised type.
Ctrl + u to underline text
Ctrl + shift + 7 to create a numbered list
Ctrl + shift + 8 to create a list of bullet points

Mac Funny Symbol

On a Mac, look for this button instead of Ctrl

In all the above, type the command to turn the feature on, type the content that will be formatted, and type the command again to turn the format feature off. This is what you do if you wish to turn the feature on and off again as you are typing. An alternative to this is to write the text first, so that you’ve got all the wording down (“on paper”, as it were) and then go back over the text, formatting where necessary. In this case, highlight the piece of text that you wish to format (by depressing the left-click button on the mouse or trackpad and then dragging the mouse over the text to be formatted) and then execute the command (eg Ctrl + b). The command will then be applied to the highlighted text.

Note that if you ever see a shortcut written as (for example) Ctrl + u, this means depress the Ctrl key and keep it depressed while you tap the other key. Note also that if you are using a Mac then it is not the Ctrl key that you use, but the key marked with the funny icon on it (see illustration).

There are other shortcut keys in Gmail’s web interface that are only available if you turn them on. These include:

c = compose a new message
/ = place the cursor in the search box ready to type in a search term
u = close the message and go back to the message list
r = reply to the message
a = reply to all the message recipients
f = forward the message to someone else
# = delete the message
v = move the message to a different label (or “folder”, if that description makes more sense to you)
shift + i = mark the selected message(s) as read
shift + u = mark the selected message(s) as unread

Obviously, the above commands don’t work if you are currently creating a message, as a letter “c” or a “/” or a “u”, etcetera, would just be added to the message you are creating.

You don’t have to turn these shortcuts on individually. To turn them all on:

Gmail Shortcuts Settings

Turn keyboard shortcuts on

  • Click on the “settings” cogwheel near the top right of the Gmail window
  • Click on the “settings” command in the menu that pops up
  • Make sure you are on the “General” tab
  • Go down to the “keyboard shortcuts” option and click the button next to “keyboard shortcuts on”
  • Scroll down the page until you see the “save changes” button and click it.

Click on this link for a more comprehensive list of Gmail shortcuts

I’m having serious doubts about whether it’s a good idea to keep a LinkedIn account

Linked-In LogoRegular readers will know that I’m no great fan of social networking sites. I think they are devious, manipulative, insecure, and can not be trusted with a tenth of the personal data that people entrust to them.

Nevertheless, for about five years I have had an account at LinkedIn. I thought that as long as I only give them the minimum amount of information (about my professional self) then it should be ok. To be honest, the real reason for joining was to increase my credibility as a self-employed person advertising via his website. If I have “x” number of connections on LinkedIn then at least “x” people are saying that they know I exist and that they are not ashamed to be associated with me (at least as far as LinkedIn is concerned).

But a number of things have started happening that I don’t like. These include;

LinkedIn - you may know

This person has suddenly appeared at the top of the list of “people you may know” in my LinkedIn account – just days after I started an email exchange with her.

People showing up on LinkedIn as being “people I may know” that LinkedIn could not possibly have deduced from my current connections. Indeed, LinkedIn don’t suggest they are first, second, or third degree “connections”. I have always scrupulously denied LinkedIn access to my contact lists. And yet, the only thing that a lot of these “people I may know” have in common is that they are, in fact, in my address book. If LinkedIn has obtained my contacts legally then I can only think that they must have bought another service – of which I am a member, and to which I have inadvertently revealed my address book. In any event, I don’t like it. Online services taking over other services and then pooling information about their users is one of the most insidious mis-uses of data online that I can think of.

More and more emails being received from people I don’t know, asking me to “connect with them” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not supposed to be like some stupid social networking sites where the aim is to get as many “followers” or “friends” as you can – irrespective of whether you actually know them. It’s supposed to be about business networking. There’s going to be no point in it at all if you can’t trust that the relationships are genuine.

There has been a lot of press about LinkedIn being hacked and about LinkedIn allegedly misusing information gleaned from users’ email accounts. If you suspect that people in your address book have been receiving invitations to join LinkedIn – apparently instigated by you – then do have a look at this link:

LinkedIn customers say Company hacked their email address books

And these pages don’t exactly inspire trust, either:

Your leaked LinkedIn password is now hanging in an art gallery
LinkedIn hack
LinkedIn passwords hacked

A Leaky BucketPerhaps It was one of these episodes that gave rise to a client phoning me last week with the news that her Gmail account had been hacked and her contacts were receiving some very strange email messages that were supposed to have come from her. She said that she had just been exploring LinkedIn (where she has an account) and that this hacking happened just afterwards. I realise that there is no proven connection with LinkedIn, but that doesn’t stop my uneasy feeling about them.

Luckily, the hackers used her Gmail account to send all these strange messages, but they didn’t change her password. The only reason I could think of for this was that they’d got access to so many accounts that they were content with a “one-time use” of her account. We were very, very, lucky. I have tried to recover Gmail accounts from Google before (see this blog on Gmail Passwords) and it can be very difficult. When trying to prove ownership of your hacked account, Google will ask some impossible questions – such as “on what date did you open the account”!

Anyway, in this instance we were able to access the account and change the Gmail password. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you not to use the same password several times (or similar ones such as mydog1, mydog2, mydog99 etc), as any human being that has hacked one site containing your email address and a password may well try the same combination (or similar ones) on other sites – see this blog on re-using passwords.

Add all these things together and I’m now teetering on the edge of closing my LinkedIn account. Certainly, I changed my own LinkedIn password as soon as possible after the above incident. I would advise you to do the same.

Setting up an autoresponder in Gmail is quite easy when you know how

What is an autoresponder? Also, known as an “out of office” reply, it is an automatic reply sent by your email provider to someone who sends you an email. It is typically used to let people know that you are probably not immediately available to respond to the message they have just sent you (eg because you are on holiday).

Setting up an autoresponder does not affect your ability to receive, read, or even respond to incoming email. It just sends an automatic message (of your own creation) to let the person know you are probably “not there” at the moment. You can still check your email when you are poolside in Florida (or Skegness) and you can still answer it in the normal way if you wish.

Different email providers offer slightly different options. Some, for instance, allow you to specify the exact times (as well as the days) during which the autoresponder will do its job. Others, like Gmail, switch it on and off for whole days at a time.

So, let’s go through how you set up an autoresponder in Gmail (see, also, the figures at the bottom of this blog):

  1. Log in to your Gmail account in the usual way (eg, by clicking on the “gmail” link on the page at and entering your credentials).
  2. Click on the “settings” gearwheel icon towards the top righthand corner of the screen.
  3. Click on the “settings” option about two thirds of the way down the menu.
  4. There is a list of “tabs” that pop up from left to right (from “General” to “Themes”). Make sure that the “General” tab is selected (by clicking on it).
  5. Scroll down the screen until you see a section headed “Out of Office AutoReply” and then complete the section as follows:
    1. Click the “radio button” next to “Out of Office AutoReply On”. This will put a black dot in the circle.
    2. Click the white space next to “First day” and click on the calendar on the starting day for the autoreply. Note that you can move forward to different months by clicking the right-pointing chevrons (double arrows) next to the month’s name at the top of the calendar.
    3. You can either enter an ending date for the autoresponder, or leave it blank (maybe you’ll choose to stay in Skegness indefinitely).
    4. Enter a subject. This will be the “subject line” of the email your correspondent will receive – eg “Thanks for your message. I’m away for a few days”.
    5. Enter the “body” of the message in the large white box – eg “I’m going to be away from October 4th until October 18th. I’ll respond to the email message I’ve just received from you as soon as I can.”
    6. If you would prefer that only people in your contacts list should receive this autoresponse, then click on the radio button next to that option. The reason for having this option is that sending these autoresponses does two things that you might find undesirable:
      • You are confirming that your email address is valid and that you are using it. This is valuable information for spammers.
      • You are saying that you are not where you usually are! if you are the sort of person who wouldn’t put an address label on a suitcase because it tells anyone seeing it that your house is probably empty (and, therefore, eminently burgle-worthy), then you might think there are security implications in using autoresponses.
  6. Click on the “Save Changes” button slightly further down the screen.

The advantages of using autoresponders are that they are a considerate, and even professional, way of dealing with the problem of leaving correspondents wondering why you aren’t replying to their email. After all, most of us expect that an email will probably be answered within two or three days at most. Autoresponders solve this problem.

Gmail - Sign In link

Fifure 1. Gmail – Sign In link

Gmail - Settings Gear

Figure 2. The Gmail Settings Gear

Gmail - Settings Option

Figure 3. The Settings option

Gmail - the General tab

Figure 4. The General tab

Gmail - Out of Office Options

Figure 5. The Out Of Office options

How do you like the new Gmail inboxes, then?

Google have been rolling out the new Gmail inboxes, whereby your incoming email is pre-sorted into one of five tabs. These tabs, together with Gmail’s definitions of what goes into them by default are:

  • Primary – “person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs”
  • Social – “messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services and other social websites”
  • Promotions – “deals, offers, and other marketing emails”
  • Updates – “personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements”
  • Forums – “messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists”

I must admit that the knee-jerk reaction of this grumpy old man was to start chuntering at my screen “… and who do you think you are, intercepting my email and sorting it onto piles. I never asked you to do this“. But I’m starting to get tired of this reaction. Maybe they’re wearing me down (see also this blog a couple of weeks ago). And, anyway, they already “read” my email in order to try and match advertising with what they think interests me.

Having said that, I can easily imagine quite a handful or so of my IT support clients not being happy with this change, so let’s look at how you can over-ride it to go back to the single inbox.

Gmail Inbox Tab Selection

Figure 1 – Selection of Inbox Tabs

If you look at the right-hand side of the list of inbox tabs there is a plus sign. If you click on this a window will pop up as in Figure 1. The way to return to a single, undifferentiated, inbox is to click on the ticks against the four “subsidiary” inbox tabs so that they all become “unticked” (you can’t untick the “primary” tab) and then click on the “save” button. After a few seconds the inbox will return to the old style.

The way to turn the new inbox tabs back on is to click on the “Settings” gearwheel at the top right and then click on the “Configure Inbox” option. This will then re-present the screen that allows you to select which inbox tabs to show.

Gmail Inbox Tabs - moving messages

Figure 2 – Gmail Inbox Tabs – moving messages

You can move a message to a different tab and then instruct Gmail to put future messages from that sender into the same inbox tab (see Figure 2). I’ve noticed, though, that it doesn’t move other previous messages from that sender to the newly-chosen tab.

This blog was written with Gmail’s normal webmail interface in mind. The new inbox tabs are also being rolled out for Gmail apps in Android and iPhone. You won’t see them, however, if you have configured an email client (such as Windows Live Mail or Outlook) to deal with your Gmail.

Google Search is now secure

Google's Secure Search

Figure 3 – Google’s Secure Search

A few times in the last week or two I have noticed browsers not correctly showing Google Search when that is the defined “Home” page and the “Home” button is clicked. Instead, an error of the type “document not found” is encountered. I think the reason is that Google have changed their “Search” to a secure connection so that data between the browser and Google is now encrypted. This means that the web page has changed from to (ie the “http” part has changed to “https”). If you are encountering this problem, then just change your home page in your browser settings accordingly.

And I’d just like to take this opportunity to remind you that the “s” after “http” should ALWAYS be present on any web page in which you are exchanging confidential information – especially financial information.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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