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Etiquette

  • Don't assume that people can cope with large attachments. If you need to send a file approaching one megabyte, first make sure that it's okay with the recipient. There will probably be no problem but there may be and it does not hurt to ask.
  • It is not fair to add someone else to a mailing list for spam, or even to risk this. For this reason, never enter anybody else's e-mail address on a web page, no matter whose page it is.
  • Like telephone numbers, some people try to keep e-mail addresses private. If you are copying a message to a lot of people who don't know one another, don't send everybody's address to everyone else. Instead send the message to yourself and BCC all of the recipients.
  • Many people would prefer not to receive HTML messages and VCF cards (see below).
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E-mail requires a connection to the Internet, a mail server on the Internet, and an e-mail client on your computer. The mail server can be supplied by the company that connects you to the Internet but it may be sensible to use another one instead. Then you can move or change Internet service providers without losing your e-mail address.

McMaster's mail servers are UnivMail and MUSS. Anyone connected with McMaster is entitled to a free account on one or the other. They provide POP service (read your mail from home or office), IMAP service (read your mail from home and office), and web-based service (read your mail from anywhere). They also offer encrypted (SSL) sending and receiving, sensible tools for filtering spam, and an authenticated SMTP service that permits laptops to send mail through it no matter where they are. (Usually outgoing mail needs to go through the server provided by your Internet service provider, so that changing locations requires changing settings.) If you use one of these servers, your address will be <accountname@mcmaster.ca>. It is not necessary to use the long form <accountname@servername.cis.mcmaster.ca>.

"Mail" is the name of the e-mail client on the lab's computers. It handles both POP and IMAP service and generally works well but be warned that the current version sometimes will stop showing the messages in a mailbox. If this happens, either rebuild the mailbox or quit the program and run it again.

Displaying formatted e-mail is not a good idea. The formatting is normally generated by the same kind of code that generates web pages, HTML, but e-mail clients do not have even the weak security apparatus of web browsers. Moreover, if some faulty HTML code crashes an e-mailer, you may have quite a headache figuring out what is wrong and deleting the problematic messaage. For these reasons, displaying formatted messages is imprudent, unless you know the sender.

Many e-mail clients' preference settings can be set to ignore some or all of the HTML code by default. Apple's Mail can be set to ignore only some of it but a hidden preference can be set to ignore all of it if, as often happens, plain text is available as an alternative. To set this preference, open a window in Terminal, type or paste in this line of text, then hit Return:

defaults write com.apple.mail PreferPlainText -bool TRUE

Sending formatted e-mail may look desirable but it is not. It is sensible to switch off fancy formatting (HTML or Rich Text or RTF) and to send messages as plain text only, with graphics not incorporated into the message but sent as attachments. If you try to be fancy and use formatting:

  • Your message is more likely to be deleted automatically as spam, so that the addressee is less likely to receive it.
  • If a recipient receives your formatted message, he may see garbage. That is because messages formatted with HTML present a security risk and often crash e-mail clients, so that many people prudently set their e-mailers not to decipher HTML (see above). Also, some e-mail clients simply cannot decipher the formatting code, especially when the formatting is RTF.
  • If the recipient sees the formatted message, he may be annoyed by it. A font that looks good on your computer may appear illegibly small or awkwardly large on another.
  • If you send the message as both text and HTML, your message will always be legible but the recipient may still be annoyed because your message may come accompanied by superfluous attachments that he will feel obliged to open and will then throw away.

Note that plain text is the Internet's standard, so every e-mail client can be made to send it, even Hotmail. The on-off switch for Hotmail is the RTF option under the Tools menu in the Compose window, although at this writing Microsoft are making that menu item available only from Windows, so you may need to log onto your account from a Windows box to change it.

Apple's Mail is set to send formatted mail by default. To switch the default to plain text go to Preferences (under the Mail menu), click on Composing, then set the Message Format menu to "Plain Text".

VCF cards are virtual business cards that can carry the sender's name, address and picture. If your e-mail program sends these out, then every recipient of every message will receive an attachment that he probably will not want. This feature does little but annoy and would also sensibly be switched off.

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