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Easy Solutions for Common E-Mail Headaches

Archive important messages for safekeeping, add an image to your mail signature, and clear out corrupted messages. Lincoln Spector answers your e-mail questions.
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E-mail is the ultimate killer app. Even technophobes who hate everything digital reluctantly acquire e-mail accounts so that they can stay in touch with family and friends.

But e-mail clients (the programs that access e-mail) don't always behave the way they should. Here I answer three reader questions about making e-mail work better--or just plain work.

Have a tech question you'd like answered? Post it to the Answer Line forum.

Can I insert an image into my signature?
Lyman E. Bertsch, Bossier City, LA

A small .gif or .jpg above or beside your name gives you a professional image (a large one, however, just makes people mad). Different e-mail clients make inserting an image easy, difficult, or all but impossible. I'll give you instructions for the various Microsoft clients, as well as for Google Mail.

Outlook 2007
This is the easiest one. Just select Tools, Options, Mail Format, and then click the Signatures button. The resulting dialog box has an editor into which you can easily insert an image by clicking the picture icon and selecting the image you want.

Outlook 2003
Click the New button to create a new message. In that message, design your signature, inserting the image and typing the text. Once the signature looks right, press Ctrl-A to select it, and then Ctrl -C to copy it to the Clipboard. Close the message window without saving it.

Select Tools, Options. Click the Mail Format tab, the Signatures button, and then the New button. Name your signature, select Start with a blank signature, and click Next. In the resulting text box, press Ctrl -V to insert the signature. Save it.

Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail
Setting up images in the signatures for these apps can be a real kludge. But hang in there: Once you have a picture set up, it's easy to use.

The first problem: These programs won't let you include an image in a signature, but they will allow you to include a URL that points to one. This means you must place the image on a Web site, where it will be accessible to your recipients already. If you don't have a Web site to store it, upload the image to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr or Picasa Web Albums.

Next, you have to create the signature as an HTML file. You can do this in your e-mail client.

1. In your Web browser, surf to the page displaying your image. If you're using Firefox, right-click the image and select Copy Image Location. If you're using Internet Explorer, right-click the image, select Properties, select the URL, and press Ctrl-C.

2. Start a new e-mail message. In the text-editing field, select Insert, Picture. Use Ctrl-V to paste your image's URL into the appropriate field. Close the dialog box.

3. Enter whatever text you wish in the signature, and otherwise get the signature looking as you want it.

4. When you're satisfied, click the Source tab at the bottom of the edit window. If you don't see such a tab, select View, Source Edit to bring it up.

5. In your message's source view, select the text between the bracketed BODY and /BODY tags. (Do not include the tags themselves.) Press Ctrl-C.

6. Launch Notepad. Once it's open, press Ctrl-V to insert the copied HTML code. Save as signature.htm.

7. Back in your e-mail client, select Tools, Options, choose the Signatures tab, and then click the New button.

8. Under Edit Signature, select File and tell it to use signature.htm. If you use the Open dialog box, make sure to select the HTML Files so that the dialog box will display .htm files instead of .txt ones.

Neither Gmail's editor nor its signature tool supports inserted graphics. Neither does the free Firefox add-in Signature, which I use and recommend as an improved Gmail signature tool (see "How Do I Automate Boilerplate Text in My E-Mail?").

The solution is easy to set up, but a hassle to use. Create the signature as a Google Docs document, with both the image and text. When you want to insert it into e-mail, open the document, copy it, and paste its contents into your message.

Editor's note: A few Greasemonkey scripts are intended to add HTML signatures to Gmail messages. PC World tested several, but none performed reliably enough to warrant a recommendation. We can only hope our little jab will spur the creators of these scripts to make improvements. For more on using Greasemonkey scripts to add new features to your favorite Web sites, see Adam Pash's "17 Greasemonkey Scripts to Turbocharge Your Browser."

How do I archive e-mail off of my hard drive?
Mick Horii, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

The following instructions work for Outlook 2003 and 2007, Windows Mail, and Outlook Express 6.0.
But first, some language clarification: The word "folder" means one thing in Windows and another in your e-mail client. I use the terms "Windows folder" and "Mail folder" to make that distinction clear.

To archive e-mail, insert or attach your archive media-- whether it's an external hard drive, a flash drive, or a DVD--and open it in a Windows Explorer window. Create an Explorer folder on the archive medium called mail archive or whatever you like. Then, simply drag the messages you wish to archive from your mail client to the new Windows folder.

When you return to your client, the messages will still be highlighted, so deleting them will be easy. How do you read archived e-mail? Just attach or insert the archive media, open the Archive folder, find the right message, and double-click it.

You may have trouble identifying your archived messages by their file names, since Windows Explorer doesn't give you as much per-message information as your mail client does. If that's a problem, create a new mail folder with your mail client's File, Folder, New menu command (or Ctrl-Shift-E). Click the new folder to view its complete lack of e-mail, then return to the archive folder on your removable media, press Ctrl-A to select all of the files, and drag them to the newly created folder in your mail client to see all of your archived files.

You have another option for Outlook 2003 and 2007: You can use the program's Archive feature to create an extra Outlook data file of your archive. Select File, Archive for the self-explanatory dialog box. My thanks to PCW forum member smax013 of the Answer Line forum for pointing this out.

How do I clear corrupt mail from my Outlook Express outbox?
Acsgtpd, Answer Line forum

There's no worse place for a corrupted, undeletable message than the outbox. Once such a file lands there, no other messages can get out.

Here's how to fix the problem in Outlook Express.

1. Select Tools, Options. Click the Maintenance tab, then the Store Folder button.

2. The resulting dialog box displays the path to your messages. To open Windows Explorer to this folder, highlight and copy the contents of the text field and then paste it--between quotation marks--in Windows' Run box (which you can get to by selecting Start, Run). Press Enter.

3. Once the folder is open, close the Store Location and Options dialog boxes, and then close Outlook Express.

4. Back in Windows Explorer, rename the file Outbox.dbx. (To be honest, it doesn't really matter what you rename the file; I'm telling you to rename it simply because that's safer than deleting it.)

5. Reopen Outlook Express. You should now have an empty outbox.

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