This week, I continue last week's look at personal distribution lists (DLs). One question I'm frequently asked is whether it's possible to use a personal DL to send a message to a group of people but remove one or two names before the message goes out.

If you work offline with an Exchange Server mailbox or have configured your non-Exchange profile so that it doesn't send messages immediately, you can edit a message in the Outbox to remove a few recipient names before Outlook sends the message on to the mail server. When you open the message, you'll see that Outlook has already expanded the DL to show the individual members. After you remove recipients, click Send to return the message to the Outbox so that Outlook can transmit it to the mail server during your next send/receive session.

Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, currently in public beta and due for release this summer, will make removing a few recipients a lot easier. When you add a personal DL as a recipient, Outlook 2003 displays a plus sign (+) next to the list name. When you click the plus sign, Outlook 2003 expands the personal DL to show all the member recipients, so you can delete any you don't need then and there.

Did you know that personal DL members don't need to be Outlook contacts? The Distribution List form has two buttons for adding new members. The Select Members button lets you choose from entries in any address list, including the Exchange Server Global Address List (GAL). Using the Add New button, you can add members--and either add their addresses only in the DL or check the "Add to contacts" button to add them in both the DL and the Contacts folder.

One advantage of adding a contact for a new DL member instead of keeping the member's address just in the DL is that this practice makes updating the DL easier if the address changes. (If the contact is a member of multiple DLs and his or her address changes, you can make the change one time in a contacts folder rather than in multiple DLs.) When you update a contact address, Outlook doesn't automatically update that address in any DLs of which that contact is a member, but the Distribution List form box does provide an Update Now button that you can click to initiate an update of the DL with any changed member addresses.

A personal DL member can link to an item in any contacts folder that's enabled as an Outlook address book. However, if you move or delete the item, you break its link with the DL member. The next time you click Update Now, Outlook will give you the option of removing the member from the DL. If you choose No, Outlook converts the DL member into a member not linked to a contact and attempts no further updates.

One final tip for working with personal DLs: If you have a large DL with many addresses not linked to contacts and you want to create contacts from those addresses, you can export the contents of the DL by using the File, Save As command to save it as a .txt file. Then open the file in Notepad and delete everything except the member list and save the file. You now have a tab-delimited file of names and addresses that you can import into Outlook or even use as the data source for a Word mail merge, if you want to send individual messages to everyone in the DL.