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Auto replies? Use a public folder

Why you should, instead of running a copy of Outlook.

Automated replies from an Outlook client are used for a number of different functions, but their usefulness can be limited by several factors, one of those factors being the behavior of the message originator. Auto-replies are best done at the server level for this reason.

For instance, in one real-world example, a newsletter with an automated reply-to address responds with a message that describes the best ways to contact the newsletter authors. However, if the message is sent in response to an out-of-office message (which was, in turn, sent as a response to the newsletter), this can create a loop of back-and-forth messages that waste both storage space and bandwidth.

Another drawback of this setup is that it requires that a copy of Outlook be kept running to catch and respond to the messages in question. This is a drain on resources; people often devote a system to running Outlook (or run a copy of Outlook on the Exchange Server), which is simply redundant.

The best scenario for an auto-responder is not to use a mailbox at all, but to use an Exchange public folder with auto-response processing. This obviates the need to keep a copy of Outlook running, and can also be combined with more intelligent rule processing to prevent infinite loops. For instance, the automated response can be from a specially-delineated e-mail address, separate from the original, that when responded to does not in turn trigger another round of e-mails.

An example of a script that can be used in a public folder to do auto-responses, and which can intelligently ignore "Out of Office" or non-delivery report messages, can be found on the CDOLive site.

Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check out his Windows 2000 blog for his latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators – please share your thoughts as well!

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