Question: I am headed out of town and I want to set up an auto-reply on my home computer, to tell people I am away and that I’ll be back on a certain date. I use Outlook 2002 (Office XP) and have a cable modem connection to the Internet. How do I do this? –M.H.
Answer: It’s good that you have a cable modem because, to use this technique, your computer must have an always-on connection to the Internet. Cable modems and DSL service (Digital Subscriber Line from your phone company) will both work.
If you use a dial-up modem to connect to the Internet, be aware that it’s not the best for this issue. This technique will not work unless your computer is connected to the Internet, and it’s unlikely that you’ll want to leave your modem dialed in to the Internet the entire time you are away, and that’s assuming your ISP permits that.
There’s also a weird trick to using the auto-reply system in Outlook 2002. There’s an option in the program to use Microsoft Word as your e-mail editor, but if this is turned on, then setting up auto-reply is impossible because you need to create a special Outlook template file with an .oft extension that contains your auto-reply message.
So, before you start the process, turn off Word in Outlook 2002 as follows:
- Open Outlook.
- Click the Tools menu.
- Choose Options.
- Click on the Mail Format tab and look for the box that says Use Microsoft Word to edit e-mail messages. Uncheck the box, and click OK.
Now let’s create the message that will be sent back to people while you are away.
- Create a mail message as you normally would, by clicking New on your toolbar or choosing New from the File menu, then Mail Message. A new mail message window will appear.
- Leave the To and CC fields blank.
- In the Subject field you could type I am visiting Grandma or something similarly appropriate.
- Next, in the body of the e-mail, type a message like:
Hi. I’ve just received your e-mail in my inbox. Please note that I am away from Tuesday through Thursday, visiting my grandma and grandpa. I am modeling my grandma’s knitted colored socks and oversized hats in the Winter Wonderland show in Sudbury. I won’t be checking e-mail while I am away, but you can send an e-mail to my Grandpa Bob at [email protected] if you need to get hold of me, or call me on my cell at 416-555-6702.
Well, you get the idea. (Click for a sample.)
- Once the autoreply e-mail is written, click the File menu and choose Save As, then choose a folder on your hard drive to store the message in so you will be able to find later (make a note of it).
- For simplicity’s sake, I usually click through to C: drive via My Computer and find a folder called autoreply (you’ll have to create this folder the first time you do this).
- Next, type a filename in the box provided (for example, outtatown) and then, in the Save as type box, choose Outlook Template. Remember that this option is not available if Microsoft Word is still set as your e-mail editor (see above).
- In the main Outlook window, choose the Tools menu, and then the Rules Wizard. Click the New button. A box will appear. Choose Start from a blank rule at the top, then below that, in the white box, choose Check messages when they arrive. Click Next.
- In the next screen, you need to select which e-mails that the autoresponder will reply to. There are lots of choices (be sure to use the vertical slider on the right to explore all the options). If you want all messages that arrive to get the autoreply, just click Next. A message warning will pop up if you do this, to make sure you want to send it to all the people who e-mail you while you’re gone.
- In next dialog box, you’ll choose what to do when an e-mail arrives. Scroll down using the slider at the right of the dialog box and find the item that says Reply using a specific template. You’ll notice that the each part of the rule you are creating appears in the Rule description box.
- When Reply using a specific template appears in the rule description, you’ll see that specific template is underlined. That means it’s clickable, and therefore customizable, so click it.
- A dialog box with the title Select a Reply Template will open. This is where you link to the autoresponder e-mail that you created earlier. In the Look In drop-down box at the top, select the second item called User templates in file system. When you do this, you’ll notice that the Browse button to the right that was previously grayed out is now active. So click it.
- A Go to Folder box will pop up. Now click the plus sign (+) next to My Computer. A list of drives on your computer will appear. Click the plus (+) sign next to the C: drive. It’ll look something like this: Local Disk (C:). A list of folders on your C: drive will appear.
- Select the autoreply folder you created earlier, and click OK. The outtatown Outlook template we created earlier will be listed in the email-files folder. Select it and click Open.
- Now you’ll be back to the Rules Wizard box. In the Rules Description, you’ll notice that it says on the bottom line, “reply using C:autoreplyouttaoffice.oft”. Click Next.
- You’ll have the option to create any exceptions. Unless there’s some e-mail that you don’t want the autoresponse to go to, simply click Next again. If you do want some emails not to get the autoresponse, check the exceptions as appropriate.
- On the next screen, name the rule in the top box. Call it I am away, if you like. Also, make sure there’s a check mark in the box that says Turn on this rule. This will activate the rule immediately.
- You can leave the box next to Run this rule now on messages already in the Inbox unchecked, unless you want all the messages you have already received to be sent your out of the office autoresponse.
- Click Finish.
The autoresponder is now set up and will be listed in the Apply rules in the following order box. To modify it in the future, highlight the rule and click Modify on the right. To remove it, highlight it and click Delete.
If the box next to the rule is checked, the rule is active, so don’t turn it on until you are ready to leave.
To get to the rule later, start up Outlook 2002, choose the Tools menu and select Rules Wizard.
Remember: While you are away, you will need to leave the computer on and connected to the Internet, with Outlook 2002 running.