Inside Outlook Express

Tips and Ideas

Online and Offline Modes

In many of the posts from new users, I discern a confusion regarding the subjects of server connections, the dial-up (ISP) connection, and Work Offline/Online. This article explains the basic concepts involved.

Network and Server Connections

The ISP or Internet connection is your network connection. Many new users don't realize that when you connect to the Internet, your computer becomes part of a network. It doesn't matter whether that Internet connection is through a dial-up connection or through a LAN connection, it's still a connection to a network. Many problems reported by new IE users are the result of the network settings being incorrectly configured. IE and Outlook Express are extremely sensitive to all network settings, and work best when the proper network components are installed. In Control Panel | Network, you should have "Client for Microsoft Networks" installed. This allows you to save passwords for protected web sites, and without it, saving passwords doesn't always work reliably. But it also adds an Identification page to the Network control, which is necessary to change the computer name. The computer name seems like such a harmless item to new users, but it can actually prevent connections to mail servers, as well as making serious offline problems in Outlook Express. The computer name should be short, simple ASCII text, with no blank spaces, no special characters, and not containing the domain name of your ISP.

When you have established an Internet connection, your computer can then connect to other computers called servers. There are web servers, mail servers, news servers, and many others. Your connection to one of these servers is not the same thing as your Internet connection. When you see warnings in IE or OE that you have lost your connection, these are referring to your server connection, not your Internet connection. You lose the server connection after a period of server-inactivity. When you lose the server connection, just press F5 or click View | Refresh. The program will then attempt to establish a new connection. For mail and news servers, you can set the time-out value anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in OE, under Tools | Accounts | <server> Properties | Advanced.

Dial-Up Connections

There are three ways in which dial-up connections can be made, excluding the use of third party dialing utilities.

  1. You can launch a connection manually by clicking a DUN connectoid or shortcut. The behavior of that call is determined by the configuration of My Computer | Dial-Up Networking | Connections | Settings.
  2. The IE dialer can launch a connection. Whenever IE detects any activity that requires an Internet connection, it will react according to the configuration of Control Panel | Internet | Connection | (Modem) Settings.
  3. The Outlook Express dialer can launch a connection. Whenever OE detects any activity that requires an Internet connection, it will react according the configuration of Tools | Accounts | <server> Properties | Connection.

If you have only one dial-up account, all three settings will of course be set to the same configuration. For those who use two or more ISP's, or two or more phone numbers to the same ISP, there are a few important points to consider.

If you always launch a dial-up manually before browsing or checking for mail, you should configure IE and all OE mail and news accounts for LAN, or "any available connection". If this is your preferred method of connecting, you might want to open My Computer | DUN as an Explorer Toolbar for easy access to all your connectoids. You will also want to click File | Work Offline whenever you disconnect. Otherwise, the first call for a server connection in IE or OE will result in a "server not found" error message.

It is relatively easy to switch between ISP's for the IE settings. It is a single setting, although one buried a few levels down. The fastest access is to make a shortcut to Control Panel | Internet and put it in your Quick Launch bar, or right-click on the IE desktop icon and click Properties | Connection. It is more difficult to change connection settings in OE, since each mail and news account can be configured to use a separate connection. Note that most mail servers do not require that you connect directly through that ISP's dial-up in order to receive mail. However most do require that you connect directly before you can use their mail server to send mail .

If you are connected to one ISP while browsing, and if in OE a mail or news account is configured to connect to another ISP, OE will attempt to hang up the current connection and dial the other ISP whenever it checks for messages. To avoid this, click Tools | Accounts, and for each mail and news account, click Properties | Connection and remove the check mark for "Always connect using...". If OE then needs an Internet connection, control of the actual dial-up will pass to IE.

It should be noted that, although it does include a new dialer, IE does not update any of the components used by Windows in establishing a dial-up networking connection.

Work On/Offline

IE4 added a new system-wide setting Work Offline. This can be accessed from any Explorer window or in OE's main window by clicking File | Work Offline. This setting is global, which means setting it Offline anywhere sets it Offline everywhere. When set Offline, IE and OE will make no attempt to connect to a server, and therefore no network (ISP) connection is needed. Note that you could have an active network connection (your modem is connected to your ISP), yet IE and OE could still be set to Work Offline. They could also be set to Work Online with no network connection. Changing to Work Offline will not cause you to lose your network connection, although you might be asked if you want to disconnect when you switch to Offline. When set to Work Online, any action which requires a server connection will start seeking that connection immediately. If you are not connected to the network, the need to connect to a server will cause IE to launch a dial-up network connection.

The question of which program will dial depends upon what the action is that needs the connection. If you click or type a URL, or click an Internet shortcut, then IE4 handles the dial-up according to the settings in Control Panel | Internet Properties | Connection. If you are reading news and press F5 to Refresh, or switch to another group, or select Send/Receive or Download, then OE will handle the dial-up according to the settings in OE under Tools | Accounts | <servers> Properties | Connection. If you happen to switch to a HTML mail or news item that has active links to a file that exists on a web server, it is IE and not OE that will handle the dial-up, since IE controls the actual workings of all HTML.

If you want Outlook Express to dial-up and retrieve mail at a specified interval, you must set Work Online. When you wish to read the mail that has been retrieved, it is best to set Work Offline. Otherwise, opening or previewing an HTML message will launch the IE dialer in order to retrieve web server-based items. These will usually be ad banners, graphics, and/or sound files, and are usually not at all necessary to read the message.

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