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Have Yahoo Mail? Make it Usable

By Gabe Kingsley, PIBMUG’s San Francisco Special Correspondent

        Quick quiz: True or false—a Yahoo mail account’s main purpose is as a spam accumulator. It’s true provided you don’t use their powerful filtering tools. If you already have a Yahoo account, jump right in. Otherwise visit http://www.Yahoo.com click on “Sign Up” (under “Personal Assistant”), and you’ll be ready to go. Tip: give only required personal information.

        Request notifications or sharing your info is at your own risk (although you can always edit your personal settings later). Once the account is established, click on “Mail” on the Yahoo.com home page. Sign in and select “Mail Options” on the right side of the page, and then click “Filters” in the “Management” column.

What’s a Filter?
     
The concept is easy: a filter is a rule you establish that controls how incoming messages are treated. You can specify conditions for accepting or rejecting mail, and make these rules broad or very specific. Even simple filters can allow mail from a certain source or about a specific subject, or can block mail from other sources or subjects. The most important thing? Filters should be specific to give you the greatest control. When I set up my Yahoo e-mail account, I use filters to allow only specific From addresses or text in Subject lines, and send all others (all non-specified addresses) to the Trash folder, where it gets deleted. First, think about what you want to accomplish. Do you want to include or exclude? What folder do you want messages to go to, Inbox, Trash, or another folder you create?

Creating and Using Filters
     
Start by selecting “Add Filter” on the “Filters” page. There are a few boxes with drop down lists from which you make selections. You can include or exclude e-mail based on words in certain headings, or text from within the body of a message. You can configure filters under any of the following headings:
From Header (originator of the message)
To/CC (you and any other recipients)
Subject (topic of message)
Message Body (any word(s) in message)

Select one of the following conditions from the drop down for each of the above that you use:
Contains
Does Not Contain
Begins With
Ends With
Enter appropriate text in the box next to each of the above that you wish to be acted upon.

Message Actions: Move to Folder: InBox - Bulk - Trash - (or any folder of user’s creation). Here are some examples:
Create a rule to accept mail From nancy@bigfoot.com and Move to Folder named Inbox (select “Move message to folder” at the bottom).
Reject all mail From the domain abc.com and Move to Folder named Trash.
Allow mail with the phrase, “Family News” in the Subject field and Move to Folder you create named Family (create custom folders on the “Check Mail” page by clicking on “Folders Add” above “Inbox”).

        If you subscribe to discussion or special interest groups, or receive news bulletins, you can easily filter mail from them. Do it by creating a Filter that specifies a consistent line of text that appears in the Subject line of their messages, such as “IBM User Group” or “Genealogy,” and send it to the folder of your choice. (The text can even be a unique word or phrase embedded within the Subject field). You can also enable a news message by the originator’s address in the From field. Note: Make sure your rules do not conflict. You may enable messages from a source by its return address that also contains text in the Subject field that you block for another. In the case of such conflicts, use multiple conditions in the filter, such as From a specific address and with specific text in the Subject field.

An Easy Filter Trick
     
I find it easiest to create and track individual rules for all the messages I wish to move to a specific folder. That way if you cancel a subscription or wish to make a change to a rule, you can simply delete or edit the individual filter.

        However, if simplicity is what you prefer, you can group your “allowable” Filters into one list of originators or certain subjects. This tells Yahoo to send everything to the Trash folder that does not meet specific criteria in the Subject field (such as: If Subject does not contain “[broad_band]” or “INFOWORLD” or “BRIAN LIVINGSTON” or “Woody’s” or “Briefing” Then Move the message to Trash.)
Note: the Boolean (logical) operator or must appear between multiple items that are to receive the same treatment or the syntax will not be correct and the filter will fail to work. This must be done manually, as the Yahoo filter mechanism will not do this for you. I also created individual filters for each of those originators or subject lines to send to inbox.

        The Filter creation tools are very easy to use and should be familiar to anyone who has used standard Windows pick lists and drop downs, but should you make a mistake, you can edit a filter or delete and recreate it. After the first two or three, you will feel quite comfortable and create them with ease.

Helper Programs
     
A serious limitation of a Yahoo mail account is that you must be online and interactive to use it. (How else can they show you those ads?) That means you must visit their web site in-person, sign in (or let the Yahoo cookie recognize you) to access your e-mail account. Fortunately, there is a terrific free program that eliminates this inconvenience. The utility is YahooPOPs and it lets you retrieve your Yahoo mail remotely using your current e-mail client program (see list below). Download it at http://yahoopops.sourceforge.net (note the “Download” link in the upper- right)

        This program is tiny, installs in an instant, and is compatible across almost all versions of Windows. The authors host a discussion group and offer support at the site, so check it out for tips and assistance. As Yahoo makes changes to their mail interface, the authors also make updates available to accommodate them. The program comes with a file named HowTo.txt that explains it all and makes it a snap to configure. Something I really like is that it can be set to delete the contents of the Trash folder at Yahoo, saving you the need to do so.

        Before you install YahooPOPs, you may want to read some of the most recent conversation in the discussion group for tips. Once you have the utility installed, right mouse click their icon in the system tray, select “Configure,” and check out the easy-to-grok options.

        You must also create a new account for your Yahoo account in your existing e-mail program. This is done on the same config screen as you set it up for your current e-mail servers. YahooPOPs works great (and it’s a keeper)!
YahooPOPs support most current e-mail clients including Calypso 2.x, Eudora, FoxMail, Incredimail, Lotus Notes R6, Outlook Express, 2000, and XP, Mozilla and Netscape Mail,
Pegasus, and The Bat.

Sending Yahoo Mail Remotely
     
Now that you can retrieve your mail without being online and visiting the Yahoo.com website, how do you send e-mail with your Yahoo.com return address? Simple! When you create your account for Yahoo.com within your own e-mail client program, use your ISP’s SMTP server address in the proper field, near where you specify the server address for YahooPOPs (explained in the YahooPOPs HowTo.txt file). When entering the return address to be shown on outbound mail, use your Yahoo name (yourname@yahoo.com). Mail sent using this account would show your Yahoo.com return address, even though it was mailed through your ISP’s SMTP server. Note: If someone wants to determine the originator of an e-mail, they can read details of the Internet mail header, but for general purposes, this works just fine. Warning: If you are using an alias address behind which you do not wish to be known or that you do not want linked to your main ISP e-mail account, do not use this method.

In Addition … and Finally!
     
In conjunction with my Outlook e-mail program and Yahoo account, I also use a very powerful little program called Mail Washer, which helps manage mail from any source. It offers its own built-in “Friends List” and “Black List” to allow wanted or block unwanted sources of mail, even mail received through your ISP mail account. MailWasher even comes with built-in filters to block mail from known sources of spam around the world.
The author asks for (but does not require) an unspecified donation for use of his program. The difference between the registered and non-registered versions is a small block of advertising that appears at the top of the window. I recommend you try it at www.mailwasher.net. If you love it, send along a few bucks and use it guilt-free.

Copyright © 2002 by Gabe Kingsley. Reproduced with permission. Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group. Gabe Kingsley is a San Francisco Bay Area based consultant and can be reached by e-mail at words4use@yahoo.com


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