By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
I once knew a guy named Sam. He bought his first new car, a Ford Fairlane, and drove it for years with the price sticker still on the back window. Why don't you take it off? I asked him. "It was on the car when I bought it. Must be there for a reason," he said.
I haven't seen or heard from Sam in 20 years. No doubt he has a PC, and everything on his computer surely runs just the way it ran the first time he turned it on. I'm sure Sam would no more customize the look and action of his software than he would his Fairlane.
A lot of computer users are like that. Maybe they don't know that they can change the way their programs work. Maybe they are worried that changing something could cause a big problem.
A good example of a program that is easy to customize is Microsoft Word. For as long as I have used Word, I've added a customized keystroke that saves the current document. Word already has a key combination that does that—Ctrl-S—but I've always had a hard time pressing Ctrl and S together. (Maybe the keys are just too close together.) So I've made Shift-F10 do the same thing. (Open the Tools menu and choose Customize to make changes in your own copy of Word.)
E-mail programs are also good candidates for customization. Most good e-mail software lets you change the way mail is delivered, the way addresses are handled and the kind of format (plain text or otherwise) used for your outgoing letters.
One touch that can make e-mail easier is a customized name for anyone you write to often. (Older mail programs call these aliases or nicknames, but newer programs just call these customized entries "names.")
Let me explain. Suppose you write nearly every day to your sister in Pasadena. Depending on how clever your e-mail program is, you might have to type in "email@example.com" or "Rosamunde Montemadoro." (Or maybe you go to all the trouble of opening the address book and locating her entry and then—naw, tell me you don't do that. That's the hardest way of all.)
But how about "Sis"? Or "Rose"? Just change the entry for your sister (or add a new one) that lists her name as "Sis" or "Rose." (Use her real name, of course. If your sister's name really is "Rose," I've made things even easier.) As long as the e-mail address in her address entry is still "firstname.lastname@example.org," she'll get the letter. And all you have to do is type a few characters into the address form.
How about all the trouble you go to just to delete the junk mail that constantly flows into your PC? And what about saving some replies but not others?
Some of the newest e-mail programs provide a simple way of doing these two things and many other functions based on "rules"—conditions that are checked for when mail comes in or goes out. Microsoft's excellent (and, for the time being, free) Outlook 98 has a Rules Wizard that does this, for example. Adding a sender's address to a junk-mail list is a click-click operation, and setting up a rule that saves some replies but not others is easy, too.
And many e-mail programs offer one customization that should be a godsend to many of you. Look for an option called "Work Offline" (or something similar) if your e-mail program insists on dialing the Internet each time you run it. If you are looking up old messages or checking an address, you probably don't want the hassle of connecting—especially if you have a service provider with busy lines.