Dispelling WordMail Misconceptions

My recent column about WordMail in Office XP, "Outlook's WordMail Bonus," generated many responses, both positive and negative. Some people like WordMail very much; others hate it just as intensely. Those in the middle seem to be lukewarm largely because they aren't sure whether using Word as the email editor for Outlook 2002 offers any benefit. The common thread running through these messages, however, is that people either misunderstand or haven't explored many WordMail features. Let's clear up some misconceptions I've heard about WordMail.

Misconception #1: Using WordMail means that messages always go in HTML format, which is virus-prone.
First, you can use WordMail in Outlook 2002 to create messages in any format—HTML for sure, but also plain text and rich text. Second, Outlook 2002 runs HTML messages in the Restricted Sites zone, which means that script in the message won't run at all, and many ActiveX controls also won't work. If you're up-to-date on your security patches for Internet Explorer (IE), which shares components with Outlook, the only HTML virus you need to worry about is one that exploits some obscure, as-yet-unknown IE vulnerability.

Misconception #2: WordMail isn't useful if you use only plain text for your messages.
Plain text mail senders can use all the WordMail features except formatting. You can use the thesaurus, check spelling and grammar as you type, search and replace text, change selected case from upper to lower case, and insert AutoText. I often use WordMail to create numbered and bulleted lists in plain text messages. After I create the plain text message, I use the "Message format" drop-down list on the toolbar to switch to HTML format. After I add numbered and bulleted lists, I switch back to plain text format. WordMail retains the numbering and uses a small square bullet (ASCII character 149) for the bullets, which seems to work fine.

Misconception #3: WordMail messages are much larger than rich-text messages using the same format.
The size depends on the message. In one test I conducted, I used IE's File, Send, Page by E-mail command to send myself a copy of a Microsoft article as an HTML message. I then resent the message from my Sent Items folder, changing the format to rich text. The HTML message was 20KB, whereas the rich-text message was 28KB. Although this test was an isolated one, WordMail in Office XP definitely produces HTML messages with less overhead than previous versions. In Word, you can select Tools, Options, then go to the General tab, click E-mail Options, and switch to the General tab. Check the "Filter HTML before sending" box to have Word strip out the Office-specific XML and other elements in outgoing HTML format messages.

Misconception #4: If you set up WordMail with an automatic signature, you have a difficult time removing the signature or editing part of it.
Granted, right-clicking an automatic WordMail signature in a message displays a limited context menu: You see only your other WordMail signature choices plus an E-mail Signature command. I created a new signature named None that is simply two hyphens, which is the minimum that WordMail seems to require for a signature. To remove an automatically inserted WordMail signature, I right-click the signature, then choose my None signature from the list. You can also edit the signature after Outlook has placed it in the message; you just won't find the usual Cut and Paste commands on the context menu.

I'll keep working with WordMail and reporting the tricks that I find. Let me know what's working for you.

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