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August 17, 1998

After you patch your e-mail's security holes, have some fun with Outlook Express

Lately, there's been quite a bit of attention given to a new kind of virus that can affect Windows e-mail programs. An e-mail message with an attachment that has a very long file name (more than 256 characters) can crash Microsoft Outlook 98; Outlook Express 4.0 for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95, and Windows 98; and Netscape Communicator 4.x. Once this occurs, the malicious e-mail can run a hidden Trojan Horse program. A similar problem involving Java applets and scripts has been reported with Qualcomm's Eudora.

No e-mail virus that actually exploits these security holes has been reported yet. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't correct these flaws now, before you wish you had.

Fixes for Outlook and Outlook Express are available from Microsoft. Point your browser to Microsoft is currently working on an even stronger fix than this, so check back in a few weeks. The virus problem does not seem to affect Outlook 97, Outlook Express prior to 4.0, or Outlook Express on Windows 3.x.

At the time of this writing, Netscape officials said a fix for Communicator would be available within days. See

Qualcomm has fixes for Eudora available at

Once you have strengthened the security of your e-mail client, you may want to have some fun customizing it. The other day I was sitting on a plane next to a Microsoft developer who described some intriguing, undocumented features of Outlook Express.

Outlook Express is included with Windows 98 but can be added to Win95 or NT by installing Internet Explorer 4.0. Or you can download Outlook Express from

Outlook Express has a multipane interface, which means you can see a list of messages in one window, the contents of the selected message in another window, and so on.

By using an undocumented Registry setting, you can add another pane of your choice to Outlook Express' interface. This pane can display any HTML file. This gives you the opportunity to keep, for example, a reference file or a page full of handy Web links one click away, within your e-mail program.

It's easy to create an HTML file containing your favorite links. If you're not an experienced Web page designer, simply use your browser to open a relevant page of links at (or any search engine), then click File, Save As and save the page to your hard drive as an HTML file.

Internet Explorer sometimes saves such pages with full text but without the graphics. If this happens to you, a work-around is to click File, Send and e-mail the page to yourself. Retrieve the e-mail in Outlook Express, then click File, Save As and save the file to disk. E-mailing the page to yourself incorporates the graphics automatically.

Here's how to get your HTML page into Outlook Express:

  • Step 1. In Win95 or Win98, click Start, Run; type regedit; then click OK.

  • Step 2. In the Registry Editor, click the plus signs to the left of HKEY_CURRENT_USER, then Software, Microsoft. Click the folder named Outlook Express to select it.

  • Step 3. The right pane of the Registry Editor should now be full of named keys. Right-click any unoccupied space in the right pane, then click New, String Value. Type Bodybarpath, then press Enter. Right-click the word Bodybarpath, then click Modify. In the Value Data field, type C:\Windows\Desktop\MyLinks.htm (or whatever name you gave to your HTML file) and click OK.

  • Step 4. Close the Registry Editor. The next time you start Outlook Express, the View menu should sport a new Info Pane item. Click this item, and your HTML file should appear at the bottom of the Outlook Express window. Enjoy!

You can also customize the Start Page for Outlook Express by using the above steps to create a new string value called Front PagePath. Give it the value of a URL to the HTML file you wish to use.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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