De-scrambling messages

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Every few months I send out a bulk e-mail message to all my friends scattered throughout the world. Some are nice enough to let me know that my message arrived looking like this: 

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">




<body bgcolor="#ffffff" text="#000000">

Hello folks.&amp;nbsp; It has been awhile.&amp;nbsp;

Most of us have probably encountered the same thing. But in recent years, most e-mail programs are sophisticated enough to know how to respond to these sort of messages without our involvement. Most particularly, folks who use Web-based e-mail services such as Hotmail, Gmail, Facebook or MySpace, never have to deal with this problem. Why? Because these e-mail services create your messages in HTML, the same type of coding that produces all the Web pages we visit and the coding I used to create the message above.

I composed the message using Thunderbird, which I have configured to create all my messages using HTML. I type in my message just like I would in any word-processing application, adding bolds and italics, inserting pictures and adding Web links to other sites. I certainly don't have to type the gibberish that you see above.

What happens, however, is that not everyone is using an e-mail program set up to read HTML-coded messages. What results is a message like the one shown.

I use both Thunderbird and Outlook Express, two of the most popular e-mail client programs. Both have options for determining how your messages are read and composed. Thunderbird, however, is a bit more geekish and has several additional settings that enable users to customize their e-mail to conform to legacy e-mail systems.

If you are receiving messages like the one shown, you will need to experiment to see how you can change the settings. In Thunderbird, after highlighting a message, all I have to do is click the "View" menu and select "Message Body As," and I can select viewing a message as a Web page or as plain text. In the above example, the user has more than likely set up his or her e-mail to view all messages as plain text. Changing the viewing to HTML will most likely remedy the problem.

Outlook Express, however, is a bit more obtuse, probably because Microsoft assumes that their customers never, ever want to bother with plain-text messages again. You can change the settings by opening the "Tools" menu, then selecting "Options." Under the "Read" tab is an obscure box that can be checked to read messages in plain text. 

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