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Hate Microsoft Outlook? Top 10 annoyances and how to fix them

By Preston Gralla
January 13, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Annoyance No. 9

People complain my e-mails have weird characters and spaces in them. Outlook 2007 uses Microsoft Word as its mail editor. Even if you don't have Word installed on your system, Outlook uses a Word .dll, and so Word is what you get when you compose mail. Because of that, when you type an apostrophe, quotation mark or some other special characters, they may show up in other people's e-mail as blank spaces or oddball characters.

How to fix it: The problems are caused by Word's use of so-called smart quotes, which from some points of view aren't so smart. They're not plain-text characters, and so other e-mail readers may interpret them oddly, particularly if the e-mail reader uses plain text instead of HTML.

To fix the problem most easily, in Outlook select Tools --> Options --> Mail Format, and from the drop-down box in the Message format area, choose Plain text and click OK. From now on, Outlook won't use smart quotes. However, it also won't use HTML, either, so you won't be able to use fonts, colors and so on.

If you'd prefer to use HTML text for most messages but use plain text only for some, when you create an e-mail message, select Options from the ribbon at the top of Outlook, and click Plain Text. That way, only that message will be created using plain text; all others will still use HTML.

Microsoft Outlook plain text
Banish weird characters by using plain text in Outlook e-mails.
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There is a way to use HTML for your messages and turn off smart quotes at the same time. Select Tools --> Options, click the Mail Format tab, and click the Editor Options button. Click Proofing, select AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat as You Type tab. Uncheck the boxes next to "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes," "Ordinals (1st) with superscript," and "Hypens with dash." Click OK, and keep clicking OK until the dialog boxes go away. You'll be able to compose HTML mail from now on, but without the oddball characters.

Annoyance No. 10

Why won't Outlook work seamlessly with Gmail? Gmail can be used as a POP3 client, just like any other ISP. But users have complained that they can't get Outlook to work properly with Gmail because of the complexity of configuration. Is there any way it can be done more simply?

How to fix it: Yes, it's confusing to configure Outlook to work properly with Gmail. But I'm here to report that it can, in fact, be done -- and to show you how to do it.

First, you'll need to tell Gmail you want to use it as a POP account. In Gmail, click Settings, and then click Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Select "Enable POP for all mail" if you want to download all mail to Outlook -- including existing mail -- in your Gmail account. If you only want to download mail that you receive in the future, select "Enable POP for mail that arrives from now on."

Next, select how you want Gmail to handle incoming messages -- whether to keep copies of messages in your inbox after they've been downloaded to Outlook, delete the messages or archive them. After you've done that, click Save Changes.

With that done, you're ready to tell Outlook how to work with Gmail. Here's how to do it:

1. In Outlook, select Tools --> Account Settings and click New.

2. From the screen that appears, select "Microsoft Exchange, POP3, IMAP, or HTTP" and click Next.

3. On the screen that appears, type in your name, Gmail e-mail address and your password in the appropriate boxes. Check "Manually configure server settings or additional server types" at the bottom of the screen and click Next.

4. From the screen that appears, select Internet E-Mail and click Next.

setting up a gmail POP account
Setting up a Gmail POP account is time-consuming but not impossible.
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5. A screen like the one above appears. For Account Type, select POP3. For Incoming mail server, enter pop.gmail.com. For Outgoing mail server (SMTP), enter smtp.gmail.com. In the Logon Information area, enter your username and password. Check the box next to Remember password.



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