Automatic e-mail reply good for business use

The Baltimore Sun

What is your take on using "automatic replies" or "out of office" replies that would respond to the e-mail I get while away? Does it tell a spammer that they have a live e-mail address, or is it worthwhile to use?

- James R. Patterson

For businesses, it can be a good idea. While any reply tells a spammer that the e-mail address is legitimate, I don't think most businesses will notice a difference in the amount of spam they get.

The plus is that the customer knows you are away and not ignoring them. In addition, since most of us can check work e-mail from home, you can answer e-mail that needs immediate attention but not feel obliged to answer each e-mail while off work or on vacation.

However, I'd be reluctant to use an automatic reply on a personal e-mail account that announces I'm away. While it's unlikely potential burglars would send e-mail to a home as a way to case the place, it just seems like a bad idea to announce that you're away.

Help from a reader: Not long ago a reader asked for a solution to this problem: He spent part of the year in Florida with one Internet provider and part of the year up North with another provider. He wanted a way for correspondents to contact him at a single address.

I suggested one of the free e-mail services such as Gmail or Yahoo. R. Anthony Hoblak of Springfield, Ill., had another suggestion that seems appealing.

"I have found a perfect solution for him that doesn't involve having a completely new e-mail address for his winter home. There is an e-mail program called Thunderbird, put out by Mozilla (, that looks, functions and acts like Microsoft Outlook, as well as having the same setup options as MS Outlook.

"The best part is that it is free. There is a portable version that one can download and install on a removable USB flash drive. You download and install portable Thunderbird to your flash drive, set it up with your account information, then simply plug the flash drive in any computer's USB port. You have access to your regular e-mail address.

"Portable Thunderbird does not need to be installed on the host computer at all, and it leaves no trace (i.e passwords, user name, e-mail downloaded and so forth) on the host computer at all, so if you are worried about security concerns, that shouldn't be an issue. I think this is an excellent solution to your reader's issue."

Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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