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Getting the Most out of Outlook Express

This article is written mainly for those literally thousands who have joined the Actrix community over the last few months and who may be new to the internet and to email. In coming newsletters I hope to deal briefly with other email programs and also with browsers such as Explorer and Netscape.  

At Actrix we don't always endorse everything Microsoft does. In particular we believe that approaches like their "Dob in a friend who might be using pirated software" are exactly what the world needs less of, but with Outlook Express, most of us here will say they have produced a winner. It's a program that suits the average email user perfectly. It enables you to sort and manage your email with ease without its becoming too powerful or cumbersome (like its bigger and less popular brother Outlook). Like most Microsoft products, it is reasonably simple to use. It usually comes bundled with Windows and it is freely available from the Microsoft Update site (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/default.htm and then click Product Updates) or courtesy of Actrix as part of the downloadable Internet Explorer 5 program. Downloading IE5 from the Customer Services section of the Actrix Web site is a great way of updating both programs from version 4 to version 5 at the same time. This is certainly recommended if you haven't done it already.

Getting to know the Internet and email is a real adventure. At the help desk it is always a pleasure to deal with newcomers who are still coming to grips with how to send, receive, sort and save their email. They have so much yet to discover! So this article isn't going to cover everything that Outlook Express can do. Where would the fun be in that? Instead it is designed to point you at some of Outlook Express's features that you can experiment with at your leisure. I will also try to stick mostly to the features that Outlook Express 4 and Outlook Express 5 have in common.


Whether you love or hate Microsoft, there is definite value to the fact that so many of their programs are organised similarly. Like Word, FrontPage and most of the others, Outlook Express has an Options section that is easy to find and work with. It mostly consists of a series of tick boxes allowing you to choose which features you'd like to employ. It's a good idea and a learning experience to experiment with some of these options. If you're not sure what an option will do, tick or untick it and experiment with your email. It just might be a good idea to remember which ones you're experimenting with so that if you don't like something you can easily go back to the way things were. Remember, too, that Microsoft products generally come with very good Help features.

The Options section can be found by clicking the Tools menu near the top and to the left in Outlook Express when no email is open. I don't think I need to explain every option that can be found. Most are pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few suggestions:

 

  • Make sure that a copy of sent messages is set to be saved in your Sent Items folder.
  • Unless you have particular reason to worry and really know what you're doing, don't encrypt or digitally sign your outgoing messages. Unless your recipients also know what to do with such messages to be able to read them, you will generate more hassles for yourself and your correspondents than benefits.
  • Requesting receipts (Outlook Express 5 only) is probably also a waste of bandwidth and other people's time if there is no good reason for such requests.

Some things that are particularly fun to experiment with:

  • Signature files (Tools/Options menu), which can be set to be added to your outgoing email. You can have multiple signatures, set one of them as a default (meaning OE will add it to the bottom of your email automatically) or choose a different one by selecting from the Insert menu in an open email. Signatures can be serious comments, information about yourself, your contact details, or a quote that you like or think might amuse or enlighten. It is generally considered bad form, however, for a signature file to be more than 4 lines.
  • Under the View menu, have a play with the Layout feature. Tick and untick a few boxes and see what effect this has on how Outlook Express appears.
  • Message Rules (under the Tools Menu) can also be a handy way to get Outlook Express to assist you with sorting your mail into separate folders as it arrives. You can also block mail from certain senders. In Outlook Express 4 this feature is called Inbox Assistant, but it is less powerful.
  • Stationery: Under the Message menu, select "New Message Using" to experiment with colours and backgrounds within your email.
  • New Folders: Create new folders for storing and sorting your sent and received messages. On the left hand side of Outlook Express, highlight where you'd like the new folder to be created. In other words, if you just want a new folder, highlight Local Folders. If you'd like a new sub folder, highlight the folder that you'd like to create a sub-folder under, and then select "New" under the File menu. This way you could create a folder for each of your regular correspondents. Separate emails can be easily dragged and dropped from one folder to another.

The Address Book: This is a really handy feature that saves time and typing errors. Click the address book icon at the top of Outlook Express to open it. You can add new people to your Address Book by clicking on the "New" button. You can select someone from your list by double-clicking them. A new email will then open with their email address already in the "To" field.

But nicknames is the best feature of the Address Book. By giving a correspondent a simple nickname such as "Bill," Outlook Express will add his complete email address whenever you simply type "Bill" into the "To" field. You can add someone to your address book manually, but an easier way is to open an email from them, and click Tools in the open email, and then Add to Address Book. There are lots of tabs and features within the Address Book, and, again, you are encouraged to experiment.

Multiple Accounts: With Outlook Express you can manage more than one account, and, using the Tools/Accounts feature, you can set it up to check your main account, all your mailboxes, and even email accounts with other ISPs without having to log off and re-dial. You will need to know names of pop and smtp servers to check accounts with others ISPs, but once you're familiar with how Outlook Express works and thinks, this sort of stuff is mostly a snap. And, of course, there's always the Actrix Support Desk.

These are just some of the things Outlook Express can do, and I haven't even started on Outlook Express as a newsreader program yet. If you're new to email, or if you've been coasting along with Outlook Express for years, I hope I have encouraged you to experiment a little so that you can get the most out of sending and receiving email.

Updating from Outlook Express 4 to Outlook Express 5 is fairly easy too. You can update to Internet Explorer 5 and Outlook Express 5 at the same time by downloading IE5 from the Customer Services section of the Actrix Homepage. If you just need Outlook Express 5, then the Windows Update page might be quicker.

Go for it! Outlook Express yourself!

Joseph's Jargon

This month I'd like to introduce a couple of new writers who have agreed to help out with a regular feature. The first is our help desk's very own Joseph Bartlett.

Ever wonder what all those acronyms and weird internet-related words mean? Each month Joseph will take a few of these and explain them briefly in layperson's terms. I've asked him to try and define each one in two sentences or less - no mean feat!

                       ----------------------------------

Let's start with protocols:

In internet terms, the word protocol means pretty much what it does in everyday English. Its a previously arranged way of talking or acting that both parties agree on. In the definitions below you will see that protocols are important when computers are communicating with each other for whatever reason. Without an agreed upon protocol, not much will be accomplished.

Different protocols are designed for different tasks and have different features or ablilities.

TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol - TCP/IP refers to the large family of protocols that make the internet work. Everything that happens over the internet uses TCP/IP at some level.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol (part of TCP/IP) - a simple protocol for transfering files between computers, what is usually used to download files onto you computer or  upload files onto a web page.

SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (part of TCP/IP) - the protocol you (or your mail program) uses to send your e-mail.

POP3: Post Office Protocol (version 3) - POP3 allows a client computer to retrieve electronic mail from a POP3 server via a (temporary) TCP/IP connection. This is what your mail program uses to receive your e-mail.

HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol - the client-server TCP/IP protocol used on  the World Wide Web for the exchange of HTML documents.

           - Joseph

The Infamous Back Orifice!
 

[Editor's note] In this article I concentrate on Back Orifice, but this is only one of the more famous of the hundreds of Trojan Horse programs that currently exist. Just this last week I have been contacted by customers who have been attacked by hackers using Netbus and SubSeven. Much of what I write about Back Orifice can also be said of these and other similar programs.

Back Orifice has been gaining a little notoriety lately, though it has been around since it’s "release" at the Def Con Hacker’s Underground Conference by the "Cult of the Dead Cow" hacker group in early August 1998. It is well-known and commonly found within New Zealand. Its name, of course, is a parody of Microsoft's "Back Office" suite.

There is a little debate as to exactly what Back Orifice is. It is like a virus in that it is capable of causing nasty consequences for your computer and it operates "quietly" and without your knowledge, but it doesn't copy and send itself on to others, and it won't start deleting important files or directories until it's remote controller tells it to.

It is best described as a Trojan Horse program as it enters your system via some other "legitimate" program that you are trying to install. It sneaks in without your knowledge or consent. You could receive Back Orifice by being targeted by someone who wants you to have it and who sends you some other program with Back Orifice encoded inside it, or it can be picked up accidentally when someone good-naturedly sends you a program that they themselves don't realise is infected. You can't pick it up just by surfing the web, or by downloading pictures.

In simple terms, if you have Back Orifice, it will be running whenever your computer is running. It won't show up in your task manager, and it is pretty much undetectable unless you know where or how to look. Early versions of Back Orifice were relatively simple, but Back Orifice 2000 is quite sophisticated and can be configured in such a way that it gives someone else as much or possibly more control over your computer than you yourself have. It does this by opening a port as soon as your computer runs which allows a "controller" (who may be scanning the net specifically for you, or for anyone with Back Orifice) to connect to your machine and take control of it. Once that has occurred, the controller may just play tricks on you, opening your cdrom drive randomly, changing your wallpaper to something silly or offensive, and that sort of thing. A malicious controller could interfere with your computer as much as you could if you were so-minded. They can gain all your passwords, delete your files, change your registry, read all your personal correspondence and documents or completely trash your hard drive.

 

One of the most interesting things about Back Orifice is that it has its own web-site. More accurately, there is a section of the Cult of the Dead Cow website devoted to their product. You can access that site at www.bo2k.com/ or click on the Cult of the Dead Cow icon included here. There you can read statements from the developers (code named things like "Dildog" and 'Sir Dystic") about just how powerful the latest version is.

Mooooooo!
One of the statements that I found of particular interest was a note on product legitimacy and security. Here the developers claim to have designed their product to meet consumer demand (and their program is downloaded freely by thousands each week) and that the only difference between Back Orifice and other "administration tools" is that Back Orifice is smaller, better and free.

Such a claim is not without a degree of truth. PCAnywhere, Remote Access, Controller and other similar programs do most of what Back Orifice does, but they are marketed as legitimate network administration tools allowing an administrator to work on, modify and install to a remote machine within his jurisdiction. The assumption, of course, is that such an administrator is not spying or modifying someone's machine without their knowledge or consent in any malicious way. He's just doing his job.

Considering what we know of Back Orifice, however, perhaps our scepticism about their claims to legitimacy can be pardoned. The program was released at a hackers conference, its proponents go by the names of Dildog and Sir Dystic, many would find its label and logo (not pictured here) offensive, and the name of the company that developed it is "The Cult of the Dead Cow." Sure, Back Orifice could be used legitimately, just as legitimate controlling programs are frequently misused, but one gets the distinct impression that Back Orifice is designed primarily with makers of premeditated mischief and malicious mayhem in mind.

Worried you might have Back Orifice?

Back Orifice is well-known to makers of anti-Virus software, and most recent virus checkers will probably find and erase it easily enough. However, you should update to the very latest version of your anti-virus software in order to be more certain about catching Back Orifice 2000. There are some, however, who say that virus scanners are not good for finding all trojans, so a simple virus-checker may not be enough in and of itself. ICQ and IRC users are more likely to "bump into" people who might want to target them for whatever reason, and should probably go a step further and install some form of protection specifically designed to protect against trojans like Back Orifice and other nasty attacks such as "nuking." Nukenabber comes heartily recommended by some of the staff here and is available from Puppet's Place at www.dynamsol.com/puppet/nukenabber.html.

 

Lockdown 2000 is  a program one Actrix customer has recently used to catch a New Zealand based hacker. You can learn more about this program at www.lockdown2000.com. What is really interesting about the Lockdown2000 site is their demonstration of what a hacker can see while he is connected to your computer. Click on the Hacker Demo button to see for yourself. It is extremely interesting. Lockdown2000 can be ordered in New Zealand by emailing Lockdown_v5@hotmail.com.

 

One thing I feel I must recommend to all our users is that they download the very latest versions of their browsing software. Microsoft Internet Explorer in particular seems vulnerable to security breaches. If you're using Explorer, please visit the Microsoft site and download the very latest version as well as any or all of the updates or security patches they provide. To do so, go here:

http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/default.htm?page=productupdates.

I really can't stress this enough, especially if you are using outdated software.

For further reading, the New Zealand site www.titan.co.nz/ferita is thoroughly recommended. It can be a little slow-loading, but it is worth the wait. There you will find loads of information about Back Orifice and other trojans as well as instructions on how to check your own computer and so on. There really is a wealth of information available there, but the site is undergoing some reconstruction. In the meantime, the old site is available at http://secured-top25.hypermart.net/

Summing up then, yes, Back Orifice is a real and present danger, but no, you don't need to panic immediately. The Internet is a wonderful place for self-education, and there is plenty of information here if you are concerned. The Internet is also safe, providing you make the effort to update and be on the ball.

 

 

Useful Sites

This month I am pleased to introduce my second helpful contributor. Jeremy Fairbrass also hails from the Actrix  help desk.  Each month he will scour the net to bring you the very latest and greatest in useful and interesting sites. This time around, however, he has written an informative article on buying CDs online.

Online Music Shopping:

Are you one of those people who likes to buy a lot of music? Or maybe you're trying to track down a particular album, but none of the shops around can get it? Have you ever considered buying music online?

Internet shopping has come a long way in the past couple of years. It used to be viewed with much wariness, as people wondered how safe it was to use their credit cards online. But with the security technologies that exist today, it can actually be safer to give your credit card details online than to use a cheque! And if there ever was a problem with your purchase, your bank or credit card company will usually happily remove the purchase from your bill. Also, in the unlikely event that your credit card number did get stolen, your bank will usually not hold you responsible for unauthorised purchases. You should definitely check with your bank first, though, to find out exactly what their policy is regarding this.

So where are the best places to look for music online? Shops in the United States are usually the best place to go. CD's in the States are very cheap, especially online as there is so much competition. The only issue is the cost of shipping to New Zealand, which can be expensive from some Internet stores. You should always check out the international shipping rates first! You will usually find that the shipping charge for the first CD is high, but for every consecutive CD on that purchase the additional shipping charge will be rather small. So if you buy two or more CDs at once, it works out well. Often you'll find that the cost of a CD will come to around NZ$25 - $30, including shipping, which is usually cheaper than buying from our own local shops! Also the range of titles is vastly greater overseas than what's available here.

Before placing an order with any online shop, you should try and check them out as much as possible. It's best to stick to the major shops if you can - the bigger they are, the more efficient they'll be. Check out the Customer Service part of their web sites - see what their policies are regarding returns and so on. Make sure they use a "secure server" for their online transactions, which means your credit card details will be transferred to them safely over the internet. You can usually get a feel for whether a shop is small and possibly dodgy, or big and reliable, just by the layout and feel of the website and how professional-looking it is. A good shop should have all the information you need available on their site. Your common sense is always a good guide! :-)

Here is a list of a handful of the major online music shops around in the States, to get you started...

If you're looking for a European or English title, try the CD Zone in the United Kingdom.

And if you're into Christian music, check out Agape Music in the United States or Acorn Direct in the United Kingdom - I highly recommend them both. But also check out the above secular shops, as they carry all the leading Christian artists too.

Of course the prices at these shops will be in US Dollars or British Pounds, so keep that in mind! If you want to check out the current exchange rates, visit the Yahoo! Finance Currency Converter (US Dollars or British Pounds).

Happy shopping!

Jeremy Fairbrass

Please note that the image links provided here are for your convenience. They are not advertising in that Actrix Networks derives no benefit from their inclusion. (Ed)

 





 

Norrie's Nerd Words

Digital Camera Deals from


Oh ho ho! - all this panic about the year 2000!

You know, if only more people had asked *my* opinion, there wouldn't have been half the brouhaha. All of the computers at Actrix were sure to be fine because of my latest technical invention, the "handy dandy, nifty thrifty, dialametric Y2K Bug Spray version 28.9." Each machine got a good going over, as did some of the staff. - But enough about my brilliance. It was just this sort of innovation that lost me my last position at the Old Post Office.

This month's challenges!

I will grudgingly say well done to astroboy who had me a wee tad stumped, but vanity forbids elaboration. Your chocolate fish are in the mail.

The first honourable mention this month goes to Enkidu who thought he might have had me with the modem installation problem, but no.

The second honourable mention goes to Sneaky who knew why his browser continually failed to find Internet addresses, yet could find them when he entered the i.p. number of the site instead. His Dialup Networking DNS settings were fine. Deleting and re-creating an Actrix dialup networking connection made no difference. Uninstalling and re-installing Windows Dialup Networking in its entirety helped not a whit.

What was the problem? I knew exactly what it was because of my own employment history. Another ISP had provided him with his browser a few years ago, and its installation process had taken over and hard-coded his Network settings (under Control Panel). This made it so that Dialup Networking would only work for that particular ISP and not for Actrix or any others. It's not illegal, and as the current voguish patter goes, "... it's within the law and we have to do what's in the best interests of our shareholders ..."

Hey! far be it from Norrie the Nerd to blame anyone for trying to make a buck or two. My advice of course is never get between one of these guys and his shareholders! I could tell you the name of this ISP, but I won't; not even if you're extra nice.

The challenges are ongoing! Any Actrix user who can stump me on an internet related technical matter will win a six-pack of chocolate fish. Send your challeges to me at norrie@actrix.co.nz. But you have to know the answer yourself!

                                                       - Norrie the Nerd

 

General News

As the holiday season is over, the Actrix helpdesk is again available 24 hours per day. You can contact the helpdesk by phone on 0800228749 or on email at support@actrix.co.nz.

Digital cameras are by far the most fun and convenient way of capturing your personal images for display on your homepage or for sending to friends or relatives across the internet. If you're in business, digital cameras are ideal for enhancing your web presence by capturing pictures of your products for electronic display.

They operate like an ordinary camera except that they depend on a certain amount of memory rather than a film. When the memory is full of images you simply download them to your pc, edit them if necessary with your imaging software and then use them as you would any other digital image. Downloading the images frees up the memory again, so you never have to buy film.

This month I'm highlighting two special deals for you on behalf of Forcetech Computers in Wellington. The first is the Mustek Gsmart 350 (pictured above).

This might be ideal for your first digital camera but it still has loads of good features such as

  • a built in flash,
  • a USB interface for quick downloading,
  • 1Mb upgradeable memory that stores 12 images,
  • images can be displayed on your pc or tv/video,
  • It runs on batteries but uses power from your pc while downloading,
  • shutter speed 1/10 to 1/100,000.

This camera normally sells for $439, but is on special for Actrix customers this month for a cash payment of $399.00 including GST.

The Mustek MDC-800 USB Digital Camera comes with lots more features which I'll list in greater detail.

  • 1012 x 768 pixels high image resolution,
  • 850K pixel CCD,
  • Colour LCD display for real
    time editing,
  • USB interface for quick downloading,
  • Built-in flash with redeye reduction,
  • 4Mb upgradeable memory, stores 12 images high, 30 images std, 60 images economy,
  • display on PC or tv/video,
  • PAL/NTSC video playback,
  • Shutter speed 1/10 to 1/100,000,
  • comes with its own power pack.

Normally $749 this camera is on special to Actrix customers for a cash payment of $699 including GST.

Both deals include all required software (including imaging), cables, batteries/powerpack and free delivery to your door.

You can find out more about both of these cameras at www.mustek.com.tw. To order phone Force Technologies on 0800 536723 (fax: 0800 836723) or email gordon@forcetech.co.nz.

Did you know that gen and co are interchangeable in your Actrix email address, and with regards to the names of our mail servers?

Are you fully aware of the services available to you via the Actrix web site? If not, next time you're surfing, why not go to Customer Services at www.actrix.co.nz and have a look? Under our Customer Services section you can
  • view your account details,
  • make payments to your one cent per minute plan,
  • create some mail filtering rules,
  • add a mailbox to your account,
  • check your volume usage,
  • and a few other things.

If you're not sure what all of these services are, I don't think I need to explain. Why not head on over and learn for yourself?

 

Actrix Product Focus - ADSL

ADSL accounts are available to Actrix customers.

ADSL is short for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. What makes ADSL so special is that it works on a normal phoneline, splitting it in two, so to speak. This, in effect, makes a dedicated line for your ADSL connection enabling you to use the telephone normally even while you are online. The part used for the internet connection delivers a high speed channel for data, allowing you to download or transfer significantly more information faster. It's ideal for heavy (or impatient) internet users.

How to get Installed

First of all, you need to be in an area with an ADSL enabled exchange. If you're unsure about that you can find out by calling the Actrix helpdesk and telling us your phone number. Your computer must also meet certain requirements, though these aren't too extravagant. You need to have at least a Pentium 166 or a Power MacIntosh, Windows 95/98/2000 or System 7.5, 32 megs of RAM, 30 megs of spare hard drive, and a spare slot. Everything else you need can be rented from Telecom.

You can contact Actrix for joining instructions and order forms. When you return these to us a technician will arrange to come out to your home/office. If possible they will get ADSL running on your line and inform you of your likely speed as this can vary according to your distance from the nearest exchange, line conditions etc. The technician will ensure ADSL is fully working before they leave. If you are unable to get ADSL there will be no installation costs incurred.

 

Costs
Code Free Traffic Monthly Fee Extra Traffic Install'n Fee Joining Fee
Jet 600 600MB/month    $89    35/MB    $300    $39.95
Jet 1500 1500MB/month    $219    35/MB    $300    $39.95
Jet 3000 3000MB/month    $369    35/MB    $300    $39.95

There is no joining fee for existing Actrix customers, and Telecom were offering free installation before 22 December. Perhaps if you ask nicely they will extend this.

You get one free email address per account. Extra email addresses are $5.00 each per month.

Telecom and Actrix will bill separately for each of their components of these costs, but there may be some additional charges. You can rent a JetStream (ADSL) modem from Telecom at a cost of $30/Month. You can purchase a JetStream modem from Telecom for $450 and an ethernet card (if you need one) for $50. All prices include GST.

Sure, it's a lot more expensive, but it also has some real advantages, such as speed, and the fact that the way ADSL works effectively gives you a second phoneline dedicated to your internet connection.

 

Round Up

So that;'s it for another month. I hope you were able to find something here that interested you or helped you to extend what you get out of the Internet. I am truly grateful for all of the comments, suggestions, and even the occasional criticisms received from readers.

We're all here to help each other and to learn from each other, so if you have something to suggest, something you'd like to know more about, or something to share with others in the Actrix community, then my email door is always open.

Rob Zorn
editor@actrix.co.nz