Restricting "Reply to All"

some organizations want to ban the use of "Reply to All" and force users to use only the Reply button to respond directly to the original sender of a message.

Sue Mosher

April 28, 2005

7 Min Read
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Surely this has happened to you: You receive an email message in which you are one of a long list of recipients. Over the next few days, your Inbox fills up with a series of follow-up messages with the same subject line, but with content that gradually drifts off-topic as one recipient or another brings up a tangential issue and hits "Reply to All". Getting stuck in this endless cycle is annoying and can be a drain on productivity when it happens to many users in an organization. As a result, some organizations want to ban the use of "Reply to All" and force users to use only the Reply button to respond directly to the original sender of a message.

Can you accomplish this task through Outlook? Yes, by using two Group Policy settings: one for the toolbar and menu "Reply to All" commands and one for the Ctrl+Shift+R shortcut key. I'll walk through the procedure for Microsoft Office Outlook 2003; the steps for Outlook 2002 or Outlook 2000 are similar. I assume that you're already familiar with the concept of using Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to control the settings available to users and computers. If not, the Office 2003 Editions Resource Kit (ORK) article "Managing Users' Configurations by Policy" (see the first URL below) is a great place to start. It explains how to work with the Administrative Template (.adm) files for Office, which tell Group Policy Editor (GPE) which settings you can manage for a given application. If you've deployed Office 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), a new set of .adm files is available from . Look under "Office 2003 Policy Template Files and Deployment Planning Tools" for the self-extracting file named Office-2003-SP1-ADMs-OPAs-and-Explain- Text.exe. After you extract the .adm files, open the GPO you want to modify and, in GPE, right-click User ConfigurationAdministrative Templates, then choose Add/Remove Templates and add the newly extracted Outlk11.adm file. This file contains the Outlook 2003 Group Policy settings. (If you're using an earlier version of Outlook, you'll need to download and use the .adm file appropriate for that version, along with the other ORK downloads for that version.)

After you add the Administrative Template for Outlook, navigate (in GPE) to User ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesMicrosoft Office Outlook 2003Disable items in user interfaceCustom. Display the first policy setting--"Disable command bar buttons and menu items". Select Enabled, then click Show. In the Show Contents dialog box, click Add and type "355". That number is the ID for the toolbar and menu "Reply to All" commands. The ID is the same whether it appears on a toolbar in the Explorer window that shows a folder's contents or in the Inspector window that displays an individual item. Click OK to save that ID as part of the policy setting. Then click "Next Policy" to move on to the second policy setting--"Disable shortcut keys". Again, click Show, then Add. This time, type in "82,12", then click OK twice to return to GPE.

These policy settings make several changes in the way Outlook behaves for any user covered by this particular GPO. The "Reply to All" command will still appear on toolbars and menus, including the right- click context menu, but it will be grayed out, indicating that the option is disabled. When a user hovers the mouse over the toolbar button, the tooltip will say, "Reply to All:Disabled by your system administrator". When the user selects or opens a message and presses the Ctrl+Shift+R key combination, nothing will happen.

At this point, you might be wondering, "How did Sue know to use 355 and 82,12 for the command and shortcut key IDs?" Knowing the right command and shortcut key values is, of course, the key to making these policies work. Let's cover the shortcut keys first, because they're easier.

The shortcut key code consists of two numbers, separated by a comma. The first number represents the letter or number for the shortcut key, in this case the letter R. The number 82 is the ASCII code for the R character. An easy way to look up the ASCII code for any character is to use the Immediate window in Outlook VBA. First, check Tools, Macro, Security, and make sure your security level is set to Medium or Low. (Restart Outlook if you change the level.) Then press Alt+F11 to open the VBA environment, followed by Ctrl+G to display the Immediate window. In the Immediate window, type

? Asc("R")

and press Enter. On the next line, the Immediate window will display 82, which is the first part of the value that we must enter to disable Ctrl+Shift+R. You can find the code for any other letter or number by replacing R in the command above with the desired character. (Keep in mind that the command is case-sensitive.)

If you don't have access to VBA or have an aversion to even simple programming functions, you can use Microsoft Word to look up character codes. In any Word document, choose Insert, Symbol; in the Symbol dialog box, select the number or uppercase letter for the shortcut key. In the From drop-down list at the lower-right corner of the Symbols tab, select "ASCII (decimal)". The ASCII code will appear in the "Character code" box.

As you might guess, the second part of the shortcut key code--the number 12-–is the portion related to Ctrl+Shift. Each modifier key-- Alt, Shift, or Control--has a corresponding value: Alt is the number 16, Shift is the number 4, and Ctrl is the number 8. When a shortcut key uses more than one modifier, add the modifier's values together. In this case, Ctrl+Shift gives us a value of 8+4--or 12, which is the second portion of the shortcut key code.

If only it were that easy to get the ID for a menu or toolbar command! Although the Microsoft article I mentioned earlier describes a method that uses the VBA Immediate window, that technique won't work for Outlook, which has two kinds of windows. You must specify which kind you're using before you can access Outlook's CommandBars collection. If you want to use one of the code methods that the article discusses, replace Application.CommandBars or CommandBars with Application.ActiveExplorer.CommandBars to find a command ID from a folder window or with Application.ActiveInspector.CommandBars to find a command ID from an individual item window. Alternatively, you can use SIAM Consulting's free CommandBars Browser tool (see the second URL below) to get any command ID from an Explorer (folder) window or use the Outlook Spy tool (see the third URL below) to get a command ID from either an Explorer or Inspector (item) window.

One final issue related to disabling items in the UI: Unlike menu commands and shortcut keys, the options on the various pages of Outlook's Tools, Options dialog box don't have codes that you can use to disable them. Instead, you need to enable the Group Policy setting that enables a particular option. Fortunately, Microsoft has arranged the settings in the Administrative Template hierarchically so that you can more easily locate a setting that corresponds to an option available in the Tools, Options dialog box.

For example, if you want to prevent users from turning on automatic journaling for different types of Outlook items, you can navigate (in GPE) to User ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesMicrosoft Office Outlook 2003Tools|OptionsJournal options and enable the policy named "Disable journaling of these Outlook items". When a user affected by that setting goes to Outlook's Tools, Options dialog box and clicks Journal Options, the "Automatically record these items" list will show the user only those types of items that you didn't select in the "Disable journaling of these Outlook items" policy.

"Managing Users' Configurations by Policy"

CommandBars Browser


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