Email Bag

More on Plain Text E-Mail
Mike writes:

I have just read Susan Ostlund's (January 2003) article, The Religion of Plain Text E-mail. It was great. I have a few points to add.

I use both MS Outlook and MS Outlook Express, and have been both the sender and receiver of e-mails with the text accidentally included as an attachment. I agree with Ms. Ostlund that default option values contribute greatly to the confusion. Selecting MS Word as your default e-mail editor also contributes to the problem.

Here are some additional downsides of creating the text portion of e-mails via MS Word or in HTML or Rich Text, which results in an attachment named Untitled Attachment.

The recipient often receives what appears to be a blank e-mail. The text of the e-mail does not appear where it normally does. This often happens even when both sender and recipient use the same e-mail handler.

Many people don't know that they can open the Untitled Attachment to see the text when they receive a blank e-mail.

When the text portion of the e-mail appears blank, the recipient cannot print a meaningful copy of the e-mail. If the recipient prints the e-mail itself, the printout does not include the text. If the recipient opens the Untitled Attachment and prints the contents, the printout does not include the date, sender, recipient, and subject lines.

Most security policies instruct users not to open unexpected or unknown attachments. An attachment named Untitled Attachment would appear to them to fall into that category. Some firewalls may even filter out Untitled Attachment.

One other point. Some people may be accidentally misled by the article's reference to the "Rich Text (HTML) option". Rich Text and HTML are not the same thing, and Rich Text does not present the same virus risk as HTML.

Comments from HALNet Support -
Subject: January 2003 "E-mail Bag"

True, if someone uses Microsoft WORD or "rich text format," extra FORMATTING codes are inserted into the document. Saving as plain text and then attaching it (or it makes its own attachment) will then [possibly] send a "blank" e-mail with an attachment. (Also, it is true that when someone sends HTML e-mail to another person whose e-mail program doesn't accept HTML, it will show up as an attachment).

However, if the sender clicks the option "send as plain text," this should compose and send (within the e-mail) a clean, text-only message. Microsoft WORD, WordPad, or other word-processing programs should not be used to compose e-mail messages. This way the e-mail is not a "blank" message, but one with the text within the body of it.

Outlook 2002

For example, see Figure 1 at right to set message format options in Outlook 2002 / Office.

The main point is to be able to avoid the many HTML and JAVA based e-mails that cause problems (program crashes, mail download problems) and the possibility of sending virus code.

As S. Ostlund wrote in her article, "My intent is to explain that there are issues and risks involved in using HTML e-mail. ...when asked to use Plain Text e-mail, please view the request as a matter of Netiquette."

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