Q: How can I configure Microsoft Office Outlook’s alerts for new items?

A: Outlook has several methods of alerting a user to the arrival of new email messages. You can configure a sound to identify new message, the mouse pointer can change briefly to a flying envelope icon, an envelope can appear in the task bar, or a new item alert box can pop up. You can configure one or all these options from Outlook’s Tools menu. To do so, select Email Options, Advanced E-mail Options, and select the check boxes for the options you want in the When new items arrive in my inbox section. Each of these alerts is fleeting and doesn’t require any user action to make the alert disappear. The interface does let you extend the time that a new email alert box is visible—as long as 30 seconds, although you can edit the registry to extend that time.

To make this registry change, go to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Common\DesktopAlerts subkey and open the DWORD parameter for TimeOn. Change the base to Decimal and enter the time in milliseconds that the new email alert box should remain open. A decimal entry of 300,000ms translates to 300 seconds (5 minutes) and a hexadecmal value of 000493e0.(Note that this entry is for Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, which is represented by the 12.0 in the path; edit this value to 11.0 for Microsoft Office Outlook 2003.)

I had a client who wanted to force email recipients to acknowledge the arrival of messages from important customers or supervisors. Outlook provides a rule that you can use to generate a New Item Alert window that the recipient must manually close. You can use any of the conditions available in Outlook’s New Rule Wizard to control when a New Item Alert window is presented. In addition, you can use the wizard to customize the New Item Alert window popup message. For example, I created a rule to make users less likely to ignore the arrival of a new email message from Tony Soprano. If users receive a message from Tony Soprano (tony.soprano@emailonastick.com), the text You have a message from Da Boss! is displayed in the New Item Alert window, as Figure 1 shows.