The blessings of e-mail are many: almost instant communication with family and friends; easy business collaboration; and of course, endless opportunities for workplace humor. The downside is unsolicited commercial e-mail, often known as spam. Almost as soon as you open a new e-mail account, you start receiving unwanted offers for fraudulent business opportunities and steaming hot pornography. This load of spam is on top of your legitimate mail, which, however welcome, adds up quickly.
Controlling the daily deluge of mail can be a challenge if you don't have a top-notch e-mail program such as Microsoft's Outlook Express (OE) 5 (see Reviews, March 2000), which hosts an arsenal of weapons for filtering out the messages you don't want and managing those you do.
If you don't already have this latest version of OE (it ships with Mac OS 9), you can download a free copy from Microsoft's Web site ( http://www.microsoft.com ). Because OE will share virtually all of its e-mail interface and features with Entourage (the code name for the e-mail client and Personal Information Manager in the forthcoming Microsoft Office 2001 for the Mac), learning how to create Mail Rules with OE now will give you a leg up when Office 2001 is released later this year.
Contributing Editor TOM NEGRINO filters his mail compulsively. His latest book is Quicken 2000 for Macintosh, Visual Quickstart Guide (Peachpit Press, 1999).
1. Filter Out Spam Junk Mail Filter is your first line of defense against spam. To prevent being traced, spammers often put false information in their e-mail's From field. This filter scans every incoming message's routing information for signs of forgery.
Open the Junk Mail Filter dialog box from the Tools menu. Make sure the Enable Junk Mail Filter check box (A) is selected.
Next, set the Sensitivity slider (B) according to your needs. The slider determines how vigilant Outlook Express is at classifying spam. The Average setting will satisfy most people, but you should experiment with it. If too much junk is getting through, adjust the Sensitivity setting until you're pleased with the results.
The filter sometimes errs on the side of junkiness, classifying as spam mail that's really mail from unfamiliar correspondents. To protect future messages from legitimate but infrequent writers, add their addresses to the Address Book. You can also instruct Junk Mail Filter to ignore all messages from a specific domain--such as Macworld.com--by entering the address in the Domain window (C).
To be able to spot junk in your mail folders at a glance, select Set Color (D) and choose a color swatch.
2. Organize Messages Junk Mail Filter only flags messages as potential spam. Use Mail Rules to put messages into action according to criteria you select. You can use Mail Rules to automatically file messages into folders, forward e-mail to colleagues, or send automated replies.
Because Junk Mail Filter isn't perfect, you'll want to create a rule that automatically sends all designated junk mail into a folder called Possible Junk, so you can decide if individual messages need to be deleted or have been unfairly maligned.
Choose Rules from the Tools menu and click on New.
Give the new rule a name (A) and make sure that Enabled is selected (B).
The If section of the window determines which criteria messages must meet for the rule to apply. Click on the pop-up menu (C) and choose Is Junk Mail from the list of options.
The Then section specifies which action the program should take. Choose Move Message from the pop-up menu (D). A new pop-up menu will appear to the right; choose the folder in which you want the junk mail to appear (E).
Tip: Mail Rules applies rules in order. If it appears that a rule you created isn't working, another, higher rule may be interfering.
3. Manage Your Lists A special--but good--type of bulk e-mail comes from mailing lists. There are mailing lists on virtually every subject you can name, from skiing to your favorite music. Mailing List Manager helps you efficiently manage mailing lists.
It's a good idea to file list mail in folders separate from your personal or business mail. First, select a mail message that came from the mailing list and choose Mailing List Manager from the Tools menu. Click on New. You'll usually want one rule for each list.
Outlook Express uses the list's address as its default name, but you may want to change it to something a bit more descriptive (A).
Choose the destination folder for the list mail from the File Messages In Folder pop-up menu (B).
You can apply regular Mail Rules to list messages, but most people need only file list messages somewhere they're easily found. In this case, leave the Do Not Apply Rules To List Messages option selected (C).
Tip: When you first subscribe to a new mailing list, you usually get instructions on how to unsubscribe; you can copy and paste these instructions into the Notes field for future reference (D).
4. Prioritize Your Incoming Messages In addition to filtering out mail you don't want, Mail Rules can highlight mail you consider important. For example, you probably add people to your Address Book because you correspond with them on a regular basis. Here's how to give messages from these folk top priority in your mailbox.
Choose Rules from the Tools menu and click on New.
In the Define Mail Rule dialog box, give the Rule a name and make sure Enabled is selected .
To apply the rule to mail from anyone in your address book, click on the pop-up menu in the If section and choose From . A new pop-up menu appears to the right; choose Is in address book. You can add additional requirements to your Rule by clicking on Add Criterion . A new row of pop-up menus will appear.
In the Then section, choose Change priority from the pop-up menu . In the new pop-up menu that appears to the right, choose the priority setting you want to assign to these messages. In this case I chose Highest.
If you want to make the messages even easier to spot, give them their own color. Click on the Add Action button  and choose Change Color from the pop-up menu . Pick a color that will grab your attention.
To top off your efforts, open the in-box and click on the Priority button  to sort the in-box by priority. This will list all of your high-priority e-mail messages together. Click on the Priority button again to toggle between sorting in ascending or descending order. To make the Highest priority messages appear at the top of your in-box, sort in descending order.
Now you'll always find your most important e-mail messages waiting at the top of your in-box.