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How can I give all Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 users the same automatic signature?

As I described in "Signature Doesn't Appear After Changing an Open Message's Sending Account," February 2005, InstantDoc ID 44782, and "Using the Right Signature," February 2004, InstantDoc ID 41019, signatures in Outlook 2003—unlike those in earlier versions—are account specific. You can't configure a single global signature—you can set signatures only for each account individually. The lack of a global signature has presented a challenge for organizations that want all users to put a specific corporate signature on outgoing messages. (Typically, a corporate signature includes some user-specific information along with corporate contact details.)

Microsoft has issued a hotfix that makes it possible to apply a global autosignature for Outlook 2003, although that's not what the fix was designed to do. As the Microsoft article "Description of the Outlook 2003 and Word 2003 post-Service Pack 1 hotfix package: April 28, 2005" (http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=898076) explains, the purpose of the hotfix is to activate two policies that disable signatures: the Disable signatures for new messages and Disable signatures for replies and forwards policies.

Both these policies are included in the Outlk11.adm Administrative Template for Group Policy Editor (GPE) under User Configuration\Microsoft Office Outlook 2003\Tools|Options\Mail Format\Signature. (You can get the most recent version of the Office 2003 .adm files from the Microsoft Office 2003 Resource Kit Downloads page at http://www.microsoft.com/office/orkarchive/2003ddl.htm.) Enabling both policies sets the NewSignature and ReplySignature string values in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Common\MailSettings registry subkey to a blank string. However, Outlook 2003 ignores those values unless the hotfix is installed.

If you apply the hotfix to both Outlook and Microsoft Word, then delete the First-Run value from the registry as the Microsoft article describes, Outlook will have no autosignature for any email account. Furthermore, both Outlook's and Word's UI for creating new signatures will be disabled. In this case, you can add signatures only by creating them manually in the %USERPROFILE%\Application DataMicrosoft\Signatures folder. You still can insert existing signatures by clicking Insert, Signature in the built-in Outlook editor, but you can't insert a signature when Word is the email editor.

After learning about this hotfix, I wondered whether setting the NewSignature and ReplySignature values to the name of a signature would apply that signature automatically to all messages for all accounts. Sure enough, that's the way it works! I created a new Administrative Template .adm file, which Web Listing 1 shows, and imported it into GPE by right-clicking the User ConfigurationAdministrative Templates node and choosing Add/Remove Templates. (To download this listing, go to http://www .windowsitpro.com/microsoftexchangeoutlook and type 47211 in the InstantDoc ID text box.) This template adds two new policies—Signature for new messages and Signature for replies and forwards—to the User Configur ation\Microsoft Office Outlook2003\Tools|Options\Mail Format\Signature node.

For each policy that you want to enable, type the name of a signature, then use a Group Policy Object (GPO) to apply the policy. (Remember also to delete the First-Run registry value as described in the Microsoft article.) Affected users will see the designated signature as the default, and users who have Word as their email editor will be able to switch to any other signature available in the Signatures folder.

One caution: Because both the .adm file in Listing 1 and the Outlk11.adm file set the NewSignature and ReplySignature registry values, you need to be careful not to set conflicting policies. In other words, don't enable both the Disable signatures for new messages policy from the Outlk11.adm file and the Signature for new messages policy from the.adm file in Listing 1. You can either set the signature for new messages, or you can disable those signatures, but don't do both. The same goes for reply and forward signatures.