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Running Away, Part 1: "Exchange" Your Vacation

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Getting away from your E-mail inbox sounds lovely, until you get back and find it overflowing. With a tweak here and there, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook can help to keep your inbox under control while you're busy getting sand between your toes.
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There's a nip in the air, and the geese are honking overhead. It's time to pick the arrows out of your back and head south for some R&R on a nice, quiet island.

Ah...sun, sand, surf, multicolored drinks with little umbrellas—that will be the life!

But before the Speedo goes into the suitcase, there's a bit of housekeeping to take care of. Two glorious weeks on the beach may do wonders for your soul, but when you get back your email inbox will be a sight to behold if you didn't do a bit of pre-bask maintenance.

Hey, Where Are You?

There's always the temptation to set up an out-of-office response to incoming mail. In Outlook, when you're connected to an Exchange server, it's this easy:

  1. Choose Tools, Out of Office Assistant.

  2. Enter your message.

  3. TIP

    If possible, be explicit about the length of your absence. Also, it's helpful (and polite!) to provide the name, email address, and phone number of another person to contact if the issue is urgent.

  4. Turn on Out of Office (OOO) by selecting the I Am Currently Out of the Office radio button.

Exchange will send the OOO message once and only once to each sender, no matter how long you're away or how often someone emails you. There's method to this one-shot madness: If you've ever seen an OOO auto-replying to someone else's OOO, which auto-replies to that message, ad infinitum, you've seen administrator hell. Those mail loops can gobble up server resources in very little time!

But wait. There are more gotchas.

By default, Exchange servers are configured to send OOO messages only to internal users. So if you were hoping to let outside folks know that you're lounging on the beach, check with your administrator first to see if he or she has enabled OOO to the Internet.


Broadcasting your OOO message to the world isn't always a good idea; you may be telling spammers, virus authors, and sundry mailing lists, that you're away from home. It's all too easy for lowlifes to find out where that home is and take advantage of your absence for their profit.

Note that mailing list owners—and, come to think of it, mailing list subscribers—don't always smile on OOO messages. Depending on their disposition and how they've set up their systems, mailing lists that receive OOO messages may respond with anything from a good flame to an unceremonious ejection from the list.

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