clip_image001This tip came about after one reader asked if there was any way to highlight email, in Outlook, that came from a set of external addresses [in short, it kind-of is, but it’s not so straightforward]. There’s a more universally useful tip lurking beneath, though – how can I hide all the internal stuff/organisational spam that I get sent via email, and show just the mail that came from customers, partners or others from the outside world?clip_image002

This is a long tip but very worthwhile…  One solution here is to use Outlook Search Folders.

These are special folders that can be created in Outlook, which show results of a query across multiple folders – like “show all flagged messages” (anywhere in the mailbox). Super-useful and a topic to return to in a later ToW…

This process will take a few minutes to set up, but it will live forever in your Exchange mailbox (ie you don’t have to repeat all this if you move to another machine).

Step 1 – Let Outlook figure out which emails originated from the outside world

If you’re using Exchange Server, then (generally) any email which comes from the outside world passes through an anti-spam layer which looks for how likely that message is to be “spam”, by analysing not only its content but where it came from – and the message is stamped with a Spam Confidence Level, or SCL. A message with a very high SCL (like 7) is probably going to be dropped on the floor by the filtering process, but emails with an SCL of 4 or 5 might look a bit spammy but could in fact be genuine. So chances are, they’ll get let through but might be dropped into your Junk Items folder. We can use the SCL value to figure out if an email came from the outside or not – internal emails just won’t have an SCL or it will be value of -1, but all external emails will have an SCL of 0 or higher.

So the first thing we need to do is “expose” the SCL to Outlook – you could add it to a standard view if you like, so you could view external emails’ date, sender, size etc, and their likelihood to be spam. This process can be a tad involved but if you follow the steps exactly, it should be fine – you might want to print this message out since it involves fiddling about in various parts of Outlook that will make it less easy to refer to the tip.

OK, here goes…

  • Save this SCL.CFG file to your PC –it needs to be dropped into a particular folder where a load of other .CFG and .ICO files already exist: it’s the definition for a custom Outlook form that we’ll use to define what the SCL value is. Save it to your desktop or somewhere else you can find it easily, for now.
  • Now, open up the correct destination for the CFG file – the default locations are …
    (open using Windows Explorer, or click below to try to open)
  • Move the CFG file from your desktop into the appropriate folder you’ve opened up by docking the newly opened window to the side (press WindowsKey ÿ– Right) and drag/drop it – you’ll need to confirm that you want to provide administrative privileges for this.
  • Back in Outlook 2010, go to File | Options | Advanced | Custom Forms (button, about 2/3 of the way down the page) | Manage Forms | Install (phew)
  • Navigate within the dialog to the CFG file you saved in step 1 above, and Open it.
  • Press OK on the form properties dialog – you should now see the SCL Extension Form listed in the right hand side – now hit Close | OK | OK to return to the main Outlook view.

OK, you could now add SCL to your default view if you really want … otherwise skip to step 2…

  • In the View tab on the Ribbon, select View Settings then click on the Columns button. In the “Select available columns from…” drop-down box, look right at the bottom, select Forms… then point to Personal Forms in the drop-down list, and you should be able to select SCL Extension Form and add it to the right.
  • Now, SCL will be available as a column if you select “SCL Extension Form” again, from the “Select available columns…” drop-down; add SCL to the right. If you now return to the standard Outlook view and hover over an external message, you should see something like…

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(this example was in Junk Items, incidentally)

Step 2 – Set up a Search Folder to filter out anything that isn’t external

clip_image005Now that Outlook can see the SCL value, it’s relatively straightforward to set up a suitable Search Folder. To begin, navigate to your Search Folders in the folder tree within Outlook, , right-click and choose New Search Folder (or press CTRL-SHIFT-P).

  • In the Search Folder dialog that appears, scroll to the very bottom and select “Create a custom Search Folder” then click the Choose button to select the criteria.
  • Give it a meaningful name (like External Mail since yesterday), then hop to the Advanced tab to set the criteria…
  • Now you can add multiple sets of criteria if you like, but the main one is to select the SCL Extension Form in the Field drop down, then choose the SCL value and set the condition to be at least 0: this would show all external mail.
  • You might want to add another one like set the Received field to be on or after “8am yesterday” (if you set that, literally, as the condition, Outlook will figure it out). I’ve also excluded some folders by name in this example – any folder that has Junk or Deleted in its name, won’t show in the list. You’ll find “Received” and “In Folder” fields in the “All Mail Fields” group.
  • DONE! Now you should see the new search folder, it can be added to your Favourites collection if you like (right click on it, choose Show in Favorites) and if you want to go back in to tweak it further, then simply right-click on it and Customize.clip_image007