I employ email for business, school, and personal use. I need my mail to be reliable, fast, and error-free. This would be easy if all email clients supported established standards, and no one had an interest in deliberately sabotaging email delivery systems. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Two major email programs are fundamentally flawed, and do not work properly with other programs in their default configurations. Additionally, spammers deliberately try to flood email systems with advertisements and malware. To educate the people that I contact via email how to use it properly, I have added very specific instructions at the bottom of every email message that I send. Below I itemize the sections of my email footer, and explain why they are necessary.

Please DO NOT send me forwards or chain letters.

This is simple. If you've received an email that you feel you must forward to all your friends, leave me out. If it's funny, then I'll go looking for it when I feel like laughing. If it's political, then send it to your elected official. If it's a virus warning, then know that I use Linux and it does not affect me.

Please DO NOT give my address to other people. This means not sending me email with other addresses in the TO or CC fields. If you must send email to multiple recipients, then use the BCC field.

To prevent spam, we must prevent the spammers from knowing our email addresses. So, you ask, how do the spammers learn of our addresses? One of the most popular ways of harvesting addresses is by way of malware. A virus, trojan, or spyware is installed on your computer without your knowledge. Among other things, it collects the addresses in your addressbook and sends them to the spammers. If you think that "this won't happen to you," then I hope that you are not using Microsoft Windows. Estimates vary, but between 60% to 90% of all MS Windows computers are assumed to host at least one type of malware. Yes, even machines with up-to-date antivirus and other protections. So if you send an email to 10 people (and specify the addresses in the TO or CC field) then when one of them gets infected, all the rest will receive spam. You can safely send email to multiple recipients by specifing them in the BCC field of your email client. The B in BCC stands for Blind: that means that the recipients do not see one another's address.

If you want your mail to be readable in any email client, then send it in UTF-8 text. Do not use proprietary encodings or Word documents.

There are actually two issues here. The first issue is with text encoding. Computers don't understand what letters are, only numbers, so letters are represented as numbers in a specific text encoding. Many English-only email clients use either ASCII or ISO-8859-1 encoding, which contains only Latin letters. Microsoft email clients don't use either, they use windows-1250 which is backwards compatible with ASCII and ISO-8859-1. People who only have English text on their computers may never notice that text is sometimes displayed using the wrong encoding. However, when that text is sent to a Greek, Russian, Hebrew, or other non-Latin computer, it turns into gibberish. The only way to safely interoperate with non-Latin languages is to use UTF-8 encoding. Refer to your email client's documentation, or ask me, to find out how to properly configure your email client.

The second issue detailed here is with non-standard email attachments. Microsoft Office users assume that everyone in the world uses Microsoft Office. In reality, Microsoft Office costs over $300 USD and runs only on Microsoft Windows computers. Macintosh and Linux users, and MS Windows users who do not wish to spend $300 USD, therefore cannot view native MS Office documents. So do not send Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents. Alternatives include HTML, PDF, and Open Office. These formats are based on open standards, and software capable of natively reading them is available for no cost on every operating system.


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