Acoustic Mac

Saving Time, Space, and Privacy in Email

Beverly Woods - 2001.10.18 - Tip Jar

HTML Email

First of all, I'd like to address the question of HTML vs. plain text. Many email programs, such as Outlook Express, have a default setting that puts your messages in HTML. Plain text is much better. I was going to try to explain why, but Charles W. Moore just saved me the trouble. Check out his article, Disabling Formatted Email - Yes!, which also has links to instructions for turning off HTML in the most commonly used email programs.

I often edit the email that I keep, and that's a snap with plain text. I sometimes don't notice that something is in HTML until I try to edit it and the computer beeps that I can't delete the part I don't need. If I really want to save the text, I might just copy & paste it into a plain text email of my own and save that. Or you can forward it to yourself - if your settings are set to send in plain text, the message will be converted to text. You don't even need to really send it, just drag it into the folder where you want to save it. Plain text takes a fraction of the hard disk space that HTML does.

Another common Preferences setting is "Reply to messages in the format in which they were received." [Editor's note: Beverly Woods uses Outlook Express. Other email clients may do things a bit differently.] This is stealth HTML - you think you have your program set to plain text, you happily send a number of plain text emails, and then you're replying to someone whose text is in a shade of pale green on a teal background that renders the writing nearly indecipherable. You're writing to complain that the message is impossible to read - and there your complaint is, in the same shade of pale green! Find that box in your Preferences and uncheck it. Plain text should be yours.

Forwarding Email

While we're in the Preferences department, you might want to look at how you're forwarding email. Some programs have the default setting to send forwarded mail as an attachment. In these days of viruses, why make unnecessary attachments? Also, if you're sending something to an email list that doesn't accept attachments, your attachment will be discarded, and all that will appear is a note that says: [Non-text portions of this message have been removed.]

You'll want to find and select the setting that sends forwarded email in the body of your email. You may also be able to select whether you want forwarded email to appear with quoting characters (>>). Too much quoting can make email difficult to read, so unless you have a reason to add quotes, you might want to leave them off. You may still be able to "Paste As Quotation" where appropriate in an email to indicate that you are quoting someone else.


An email program function not used often enough is the "Bcc" (blind copy) option. There are times when you want to have the email addresses of all recipients visible to every recipient and you want everyone to know who's gotten what. Far too often, however, people send out email to everyone they know or to a large mailing list, whether recipients know each other or not, with all the addresses visible. This is a breach of netiquette. It wastes space in recipients' computers - 2K of message plus 10K of addresses. Far more importantly, it gives out everyone's email address, whether they want it given out or not. Many people feel their privacy has been invaded when they see their address in an extensive "Cc" list.

It's easy to avoid sharing all those addresses. Simply add the recipients' email addresses on the line that says Bcc. This hides recipients so effectively that after you send the email, even you may not be able to see who you sent it to (this varies by email client). You might want to copy and paste that list, if you want to save it for future reference; I sometimes paste recipient lists into the copy of the email in my "Sent" folder.

Mailing Lists Can Save Time

An easier method is available in programs that allow you to make a mailing list of any group of addresses. This is available through the "Contacts" or "Address Book" function. You can make a mailing list and call it, for example, "Friends." Then instead of having to type everyone's nickname or address individually, all you have to do is type "Friends" into the Bcc line; it should then appear underlined, as if it were an address, and the message will be sent to everyone in the mailing list folder of that name. If there is an option for "Hide Recipient Names" when you make the list and you choose that, your list will be hidden even if you enter it in the "To" or "Cc" lines. Otherwise, use Bcc to protect privacy.

That's it until next time. It's always good to hear from readers, so feel free to email your questions or comments about this column to Beverly Woods . And thanks for reading and supporting Low End Mac. LEM

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