Stay in touch

You may have spent hours carefully entering contact details for your friends, family and colleagues into Outlook, but are you making the best use of them? It's so easy to lose touch with people, but the success of sites such as Friendster and Friends Reunited shows how much we like to make connections and keep in contact.

One site, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), has realised that people don't have the time to type in a long list of contacts they've already stored in Outlook. It searches your address book for members of the service and invites them to join your list of connections. It also sends invitations to any of your mates who aren't already signed up. The LinkedIn toolbar for Outlook then keeps your list of contacts synchronised with your address book as you meet new people or your acquaintances join the service (see this screen shot).

Another site that keeps your information up to date is Plaxo (www.plaxo.com). Give this contact-management site access to your address book and it will disseminate any changes to your own details, update those for your friends who are also on Plaxo and ask those who don't use the service whether they've moved or got a new phone (see this screen shot)..

The price of privacy

Of course, some people will find Plaxo invitations and update requests very intrusive. I also worry a little about just how private it will keep the information it gathers. But the combination of a stringent privacy policy and a paid-for product - so that Plaxo won't have to resort to selling contact details - makes the service look like a good bet.

So how best can you use the addresses you've so carefully kept updated? Word's Mail Merge (click on Tools-Letters and Mailings-Mail Merge) makes it easy to turn a selection from your contact list into anything from Christmas card labels to wedding invitations. However, if you've got a very large address book, it may take ages to open. In extreme cases it can cause Word to crash.

Byte-sized chunks

To make your information more manageable, use Outlook to create several, smaller lists. Type the name of the group in which you want to place an individual directly into the Category box. If you're creating a new variant use the Add to List button (as in this screen shot)...

You can't export individual categories, but you can save the contents of a folder to a file. Use File-New-Folder, make a separate Contact Items file and temporarily move the addresses you need into it. Go to the View drop-down in the toolbar, select By Category and, with the key pressed, drag the group you want to export into the new folder. Choose File-Import and Export-Export to a file-Microsoft Excel.

The relevant contacts will now be in a small file that Word can handle easily. To clean up after yourself, go back into Outlook, hold down again and drag the details into the main Contacts folder, then delete the temporary one.

WHO WANTS TO KNOW?

You don't have to be a big business to use the IRM (Information Rights Management) tools in Office 2003 - but you do need the Professional or Enterprise version of the software.

With this, you can lock documents so that no one can open them without first entering their pre-approved e-mail address (click File-Permission-Do Not Distribute). It's much more secure than a password. Word, Excel and PowerPoint will all refuse to open the file without the correct address. You can also use IRM to send out files no-one can edit - it's even up to you whether you let people print or copy the information.

Normally IRM needs the rights management services of Windows Server 2003, however Microsoft is currently running a free server for people who want to try the service out. If you haven't already, you'll need to sign up for a Passport. To get started choose File-Permission-Do Not Distribute. Word will ask you if you want to download the Windows Rights Management client and then sign up for the Passport service (screen shot).

Once that's set up, you can lock documents in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, or even e-mails you send from Outlook. With the latter, recipients all have the same permissions. In the other applications, by adding e-mail addresses to the list in the Permissions dialogue you can choose which individuals can merely read the document and who gets to make changes (as seen (here). Someone with editing rights can copy from the document - unless you prevent it, which disables PrintScreen too. You can even let people use a file for a limited time; setting an expiry date after which it will self destruct... well all right, it'll be locked.

Anyone to whom you send a protected document has to be using the Passport rights management service to open it. If they aren't they'll get instructions on how to get started. And if your colleagues don't have Office 2003, they can open files in Internet Explorer, as long as they download the rights management add-on first.

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Mary Branscombe

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