How to Manage Attachments in Gmail

gmail_logoSince Gmail offers nearly unlimited storage space, most people keep emails with attachments archived so they can access important files later. This works great when you need to dig up pictures sent from a relative or print a copy of the report you wrote last year.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy for messages to get lost in the labyrinthine depths of a mature Gmail inbox.  A few weeks after you’ve received those baby pictures of yourself from grandma, they could easily be lost amidst hundreds of Facebook notifications.

Managing Attachments with Search

One of the most useful (and the least mentioned) perks of Gmail is the built-in search.  Using the search box at the top of every Gmail page, you can easily locate any attachments with a few handy search strings.

To show all messages with attachments, use:

has:attachment

To specify the type of attachment, use:

has:attachment filetype (just replace ‘filetype’ with the type you’re looking for, like .doc or .jpg)

Example: has:attachment .xls only displays emails with Excel file attachments.

If you know who sent the specific attachment, use:

has:attachment from:user (just replace ‘user’ with the person you want to display)

Example: has:attachment from:grandma to show only show messages with attachments sent from grandma.

If you want to show messages with multiple filetypes, use:

has:attachment (filetype1 OR filetype2 OR filetype3)

Example:  has:attachment (.doc OR .xls OR .ppt) only displays files from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.

Managing Attachments with Filters and Labels

For even more control, you can set Gmail to automatically label messages that have attachments.  You can use any of the filters shown in the previous section (or create your own).

To add a new filter, click the Create a filter link to the right of the search box.

gmail_multipleinboxes_createfilterCheck the Has attachment box and enter the attachments you would like to manage in the Has the words: field.  You can group and separate multiple extensions by using the syntax (filetype1 OR filetype2 OR filetype3).  You can test your search query with the Test Filter button, otherwise click Next Step.

gmail-manage-attachments-createIn the next screen, check Apply the label: and enter the label for your query.  Since I was searching for Office documents, I named mine attachment/office doc.  Before you create the filter you can select the option to apply the filter to all current emails matching your criteria.

gmail-manage-attachments-applyNow when you want to view a specific label you can just click the link on your sidebar.  (Note:  I’m using the Better Gmail 2 add-on for Firefox which has a great feature called Folders4Gmail.)

gmail-manage-attachments-labelsAdding Icons for Attachments

If you use Firefox, you can add icons for attachments using the Better Gmail 2 add-on.  In Better Gmail 2’s options, click the Messages tab and enable Attachment Icons or Attachment Icons (native).  The only difference between the two is that the (native) version uses your system’s built-in icons.

gmail-manage-attachments-iconsHave any tips for handling attachments in Gmail?  Share them with us in the comments!

Preventing Viruses Part 1: Email Viruses

keyboard-virus-thumbWhen you think of a computer virus, you might imagine a hacker in a dimly-lit room deliberately targeting your computer with malicious software.  While that might happen in movies, real viruses are nearly autonomous and are constantly scanning the internet seeking vulnerable software and hardware.  As soon as they find a viable target, they infect and attempt to propagate again.

So how does your computer get infected with viruses (or more broadly defined as malware)?  The unfortunate truth is that most viruses are self-inflicted, so in this guide I’ll be giving you some tips on how to avoid viruses that spread through email.

Why Email?

Email is a common way to become infected because it provides a simple method for transferring files as attachments.  This doesn’t mean that reading an email in your inbox will infect your computer, but it does mean that your messages could have viruses attached to them disguised as ordinary files.

Here’s a likely scenario:  A friend of yours gets a computer virus.  The virus then uses their email address book to spread itself over the internet (and your address is on that list).  You receive an email from your friend saying you should open the attached file.  You open it and your computer becomes infected, and the cycle continues.

The Art of Avoiding Email Viruses

Avoiding email viruses isn’t as easy as never opening attachments.  You need to be actively aware of the messages you’re receiving, including the sender, addressees, and message content.  If anything seems wrong, it’s probably in your best interest to leave it alone.  One of the oldest rules of the internet continues to hold true for email: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The most important thing is to only open attachments you were expecting to receive, and make sure they are the correct file you expected.  You’re most likely to be infected by an email from a friend or family member, so if you receive an attachment when you weren’t expecting one, don’t hesitate to email them back and ask what the file is before opening it.

If you’re receiving a file you were expecting, it still doesn’t hurt to run your virus scanner before opening it.  Most email programs (including Gmail) can automatically scan attached files for viruses.

What to Watch Out For

I recently received a suspicious email from a friend that didn’t have an attachment, it instead had a link to an executable (.exe) file.  The email came with the subject “WOW”, which can easily pique your curiosity as to what the file may be.  I noted that the email was addressed to me and several people I had never heard of, which also alerted me that something was awry.

Before opening the file, I replied to my friend asking him if he intended to send that email (or if he was even aware it was sent).  I also suggested that if he didn’t intend to send the file, that he should immediately notify the recipients of the email to stop them from opening it.  It turns out that he had no idea the email had been sent from his account, and he began notifying the recipients not to open the file.

virus-prevention-email-message

General Rules for Avoiding Email Viruses

  1. If you weren’t expecting a file, don’t open it.
  2. Ask the sender what the attachment is before opening it.  They may not have been aware it was even sent.
  3. Make sure you have an anti-virus program installed and keep it updated.  Microsoft Security Essentials is free and provides good protection.
  4. Especially avoid executable file (.exe) attachments.  Viruses can be stored in many ways, but .exe’s are more likely than others to be malicious.

By following the tips in this guide, you should be well on your way safely using your email.  Have any tips for avoiding email viruses?  Share them with us in the comments!

How to Access Gmail Without an Internet Connection

gmail-offline-thumbWe all love the freedom and accessibility provided by keeping our email in the digital “cloud“, but an inevitable problem always arises: what do we do when we aren’t able to access the internet?  Or, as we recently discovered, what do we do when the our web-based email provider crashes?

One solution is to activate Gmail’s Offline mode, which allows you to store copies of your emails on your computer using Google Gears (Gears is an extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer that allows internet content to be stored and synchronized on your hard drive).  When connected to Gmail, Gears will store your emails on your computer and periodically check to make sure they are updated.  If you want to access Gmail offline, Gears will allow you to use it like normal (aside from the fact that you can’t send or receive messages until you connect).

Activating Offline Gmail

Step One: Login to your Gmail account and go to the Gmail Labs page.  Click the Enable button for Offline.  Click Save Changes.

gmail-labs-offline

Step Two: In your inbox, click the Offline button in the top right of the screen.

gmail-labs-offline-mode

If you haven’t already installed Google Gears, you will be prompted to do so now.  Please take heed of the message that you shouldn’t install Offline Gmail if you’re using a public or shared computer.  Click the Install button and follow the procedures to install Google Gears.  You will have to restart your browser once the installation is finished.

gmail-labs-offline-gears

Step 3: After you have installed Gears and restarted your browser, log back into your Gmail account.  You will now be prompted to allow Gmail to store messages to your computer.  Check the “I trust this site” box and click Allow.

gmail-labs-offline-gears-allow

You will also be given the opportunity to create shortcuts for Offline Gmail.

gmail-labs-offline-shortcuts

Offline Gmail will now be installed and will begin storing your messages on your computer.  This process will take some time (depending on the size of your inbox and attachments).  If you interrupt the downloading process, it will resume when you log back into Gmail.

gmail-labs-offline-downloading

A new Offline icon will be visible in the top right of your inbox (right next to the green Gmail Labs beaker).  The Offline icon will indicate current status of your local email copies and also allow you to enter “Flaky Internet Mode” if you’re having trouble connecting.

Now that you have Offline Gmail installed, you can access your email without an internet connection just by opening the shortcuts you saved to your computer.  You’ll have access to all emails stored by Google Gears, but you won’t be able to download new messages or compose messages until you connect to the internet.  Any gadgets you have activated will also be unavailable until you enter online mode again.

Offline Gmail is especially useful if you’ve got a netbook or laptop and need to access your emails on the go.  Offline Gmail saves 3 months of previous emails by default (which can be adjusted) and even stores copies of your attachments.  You can even continue composing new messages, they will just be stored in your Outbox until you have internet access.

Have any tips for staying connected when you’re off the grid?  Share them with us in the comments.

New Gmail Labs Feature Hides Labels, Shows Subjects Better

gmail_labs_hidelabels_badinboxI like using labels in Gmail, but they take up a ridiculous amount of real estate in your subject line (especially if you’re using labels as folders).  On a small screen like a netbook’s, labels can completely overshadow the subject line of your emails.

Gmail Labs comes to the rescue with the new Remove Labels from Subjects feature.  Once enabled, all labels in the subject line will be completely hidden, allowing you to read your email subjects without obstruction.  Labels will still be fully functional via the sidebar and search box.

To enable this feature, head over to the Gmail Labs page and click the ‘Enable’ button on Remove Labels from Subjects.

gmail_labs_hidelabels_goodinbox
Hidden labels, visible subjects!

For even more label-hiding goodness, check out the Better Gmail 2 add-on for Firefox or the Hide Labels in Message Row script for Greasemonkey.  Not only do those hide the labels, they will automatically display the labels when you hover your mouse over a message.

Keep Your Inbox Spam-Free with TrashMail

email_thumbI’m not comfortable giving out my email address freely on the internet, but many websites require a valid email address when registering.  While this is typically harmless, it does open you up to the potential for spam – and who wants that?

TrashMail lets you sneak past compulsory email registration by generating a disposable email address and using it to forward messages to your actual email account.  This semi-fake account can be set to expire after a certain period of time, or even after a specific amount of messages have been received.  TrashMail allows you to register anywhere (while still receiving initial registration/validation emails) – but once your disposable address has expired, you won’t receive any more messages!

TrashMail.net: TrashMail can be used in any operating system by visiting TrashMail.net.  You can create your disposable address name (a random name will be generated automatically), and specify your real email address.  Below that, you can choose how many emails you want to receive and how long the disposable address will last.

trashmail_trashmail.net

TrashMail in Firefox: If you use Firefox, using TrashMail is even easier.  To get started, install the TrashMail add-on and after a browser restart the service will be integrated in your browser.  The next time you’re required to enter your email address, right click the field and select Paste disposable address.

firefox_trashmail_pasteaddress

A new window will open that lets you customize your disposable address, your real address, and choose the number of emails and life span of the disposable account (just like on the website).

firefox_trashmail_createemail

Once you click ‘Create email’, your disposable address will be immediately inserted into the form.

firefox_trashmail_finalemailA few limitations: With the free version of TrashMail, your disposable email accounts can only receive a maximum of 10 emails and can only last one month.  These restrictions can be removed if you purchase TrashMail Plus for $3.99/year, but the free version has been more than sufficient for my usage.

TrashMail is a great way to keep your inbox free of spam, and is incredibly simple to use with the Firefox add-on.  Just remember to only use a disposable email address on non-essential websites, in case you need to log in or receive emails in the future.

How To: Get Organized with Multiple Inboxes in Gmail

gmail_multipleinboxes_thumbmaybeIf you want to get a better grip on your Gmail inbox (whether it be to handle multiple email accounts or simply to organize messages better), you may find Gmail Labs’ Multiple Inboxes feature useful.  Multiple Inboxes splits your Gmail window into separate inboxes, allowing you to apply unique filters to each one.

Multiple Inboxes provides a great way to separate multiple email accounts, allowing you to keep your personal inbox clean without losing messages from your other accounts.

Using Multiple Inboxes

Step 1: Activate Multiple Inboxes in Gmail Labs.

gmail_multipleinboxes_labsenable

Step 2: By default, you will have multiple inboxes for starred messages and drafts only.  To change these or add new inboxes, click Settings (located in the top right) then click the Multiple inboxes tab.

gmail_multipleinboxes_multipleinboxtab

You can now specify up to four additional inboxes to be displayed in Gmail.  To choose which messages are displayed in an inbox, you can enter standard Gmail search queries in the ‘Search query’ box.

Here are a few examples of search queries:

  • To create an inbox that displays only messages with attachments, use the query:  has:attachment
  • To display only unread messages:  is:unread
  • To display messages from a specific sender:  from:SENDER’S_ADDRESS (replace with a real email address)
  • To display messages with a specific label:  label:YOUR_LABEL
  • If you’re using multiple accounts, you can display account-specific messages by using:  to:YOUR_ACCOUNT_ADDRESS
    • In my case, I wanted to sort all messages to @techerator email addresses.  To do this, I used the query  to:*@techerator.com (the * denotes a wildcard).

gmail_multipleinboxes_searchqueries

At the bottom of the settings page, you can configure how many messages per inbox are displayed (the default is 9) and where the multiple inboxes are displayed.

Step 3: (optional) Now that you have multiple inboxes configured, you may want to remove redundant messages from your primary inbox which can be achieved easily using Gmail’s filters.

Click the Create a filter link, located at the top of your Gmail inbox (to the right of the ‘Search the Web’ button).

gmail_multipleinboxes_createfilter

Configure the filter to be the same as the query (or queries) you used for your multiple inboxes.  In my case, I want all messages to @techerator.com addresses hidden from my main inbox and displayed in my multiple inboxes.  To do this, I entered *@techerator.com in the To: field.

If you want to see what the filter captures, click the ‘Test Search’ button.  When satisfied with your results, click the Next Step button.

gmail_multipleinboxes_filter

In the next screen, check the Skip the Inbox (Archive It) button and then click the Create Filter button.  If you want this action to be applied retroactively to current messages that meet your filter criteria, click the ‘Also apply filter to…’ box.  Messages that apply to your filter will no longer be displayed in your primary inbox, but will be displayed in your multiple inbox instead.

gmail_multipleinboxes_skipinboxMultiple Inboxes for Gmail provides a great solution to getting your inbox organized, and helps keep important messages from getting lost in the noise of your everyday correspondence.

Have a good email configuration?  Share it in the comments!  [Gmail Multiple Inboxes]

How To: Automatically Forward Emails to Multiple Recipients in Gmail

I recently found the need to have one of Techerator’s email accounts automatically forward emails to multiple recipients for notifications.  Gmail has built-in email forwarding (to a single email address), but there is a very simple trick to forward to multiple addresses.

  1. In Gmail, click the ‘Create a filter’ link at the top, near the search box.
    gmailforwarding
  2. You can now create a filter to only forward select messages, or if you want to forward all messages you can enter the current account’s email address in the ‘To:’ field (in this example, it would be tips@techerator.com).  Click ‘Next Step’.
    gmailforwarding_createfilter
  3. In the next screen, check the Forward it to: box and enter one of the desired email addresses in the box.  Don’t worry, we’ll add the other addresses in the next step.  Click Create Filter.
    gmailforwarding_email1
  4. Repeat this process for any additional email addresses you want to forward messages to.  Be sure to keep your filter settings the same to avoid any incongruities.

How To: Set Gmail as the Default Email Handler in Firefox

gmail_logoIf you’re an avid Gmail user, you may wish to set it as the default email handler in Firefox.  By setting it as the default, Firefox will automatically open the Gmail composition window when you click any mailto: links or click the Send Link button in the right-click menu.

Procedure

  1. In Firefox, click Tools –> Options.
  2. Click the Applications tab and type mailto in the search box.
  3. Open the dropdown menu in the Action column and select Use Gmail.
    firefoxgmailsettings
  4. Click OK, Gmail will now be set to handle email composition.

If you’d like to test it out, feel free to click here to send me an email.

Thunderbird Fix: All Emails Show Attachment Icon (even if they don’t have attachments)

thunderbirdSoftware Involved: Mozilla Thunderbird, AVG Anti-Virus 8.0/ 8.5

Problem/Symptoms: All incoming emails in Mozilla’s Thunderbird appear as if they have attachments, regardless if they have attachments or not.  The attachment icon disappears immediately after opening the email (as long as the email did not legitimately have an attachment).

Solution: AVG automatically attaches an email certification message to all incoming emails stating, “No virus found in this incoming message.” which Thunderbird interprets as an attachment.  This problem has a very simple fix:

  1. Open the AVG Anti-Virus User Interface. This can be done by right clicking the tray icon.
  2. In the menu bar, click Tools –> Advanced Settings.
  3. Select the E-Mail Scanner tab, check the box next to With attachments only under “Certify email”. (See image below)

This will only add the “No virus found…” message to only emails with attachments, solving the false attachment problem.

avgfix