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Block senders, add notifications in Outlook, Thunderbird

Create a rule in MS Outlook and filter in Mozilla Thunderbird to block mail from specific addresses or domains, and set each e-mail app to notify you of new mail from an address.

A reader named Eddy contacted me the other day to ask how to block mail from specific people in Mozilla Thunderbird. Eddy also wants to be notified when mail comes from certain addresses.

While I am familiar with how to create rules in Microsoft Outlook to block senders and receive notifications when mail arrives from a particular person or address, I had never tried to do the same in Thunderbird. It turns out Thunderbird's filters make it easy to automatically block mail from a person or address, but there's no equivalent in Thunderbird to Outlook's ability to generate pop-up notifications when mail arrives from a specific sender. About the best you can manage is to set Thunderbird to highlight priority messages in your inbox.

Follow these steps to block senders and create automatic notifications in Outlook and Thunderbird.

Block senders with four clicks in Outlook 2007 and 2010
The fastest way to block mail from a sender in Outlook 2007 and 2010 is to right-click a message from the address, choose Rules > Always Move Messages From, and select the Deleted Items folder in the list that appears.

You get more control over what happens to incoming messages by creating a rule for mail from specific addresses or recipients. A post I wrote in November 2010 entitled "Combine and organize your e-mail accounts" provides step-by-step instructions for creating rules in Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010.

Another option is to add the address to Outlook's Blocked Senders list: in Outlook 2003 and 2007, click Tools > Options > Preferences > Junk E-mail > Blocked Senders > Add, and then enter the address. You can also import a text file that lists addresses to be blocked. Microsoft provides more information about Outlook 2003's Blocked Senders list on the Office Help site; the equivalent information for Outlook 2007 is on this page.

To access the Blocked Senders list in Outlook 2010, click Junk in the Delete group on the Home tab and choose Junk E-mail Options > Blocked Senders > Add. You can also select a message from the sender to be blocked and click Junk > Block Sender. The Outlook 2010 Help and How-to site provides more information on the program's Safe Senders, Safe Recipients, and Blocked Senders lists.

Create custom notifications in Outlook
Back in November 2008 I described how to turn off Outlook's desktop alerts, which pop up whenever new mail arrives (scroll to the second of the four tips in that post). You can customize Outlook's new-mail alerts by creating a rule that plays a specific tone and generates a custom message when mail arrives from a particular address.

In Outlook 2003 and 2007, click Tools > Rules and Alerts. In Outlook 2010, click Rules on the Home tab and choose Manage Rules & Alerts. In all three versions, choose New Rule under E-mail Rules. In the Rules Wizard select Start from a blank rule, make sure "Check messages when they arrive" is selected, and click Next. Choose from people or distribution list in the top window, click people or distribution list, and either type the name/address or choose it from your list of contacts. Click OK and then Next.

In the next screen of the Rules Wizard, scroll to the bottom of the top window to see options for playing a sound, displaying a specific message in a New Alert Window, and displaying a Desktop Alert. Checking one of the items adds it to the bottom window; click the item to select a WAV file to play, add a custom message, or perform another action based on your selection.

Microsoft Outlook Rules Wizard
The Rules Wizard in Microsoft Outlook lets you customize the alert that appears when mail arrives from a specific sender. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Click Next to add exceptions to your rule, and Next again to change the rule's default name, run the rule immediately, and review the rule description. Once the rule's settings pass muster, click Finish. Mail arriving subsequently from the person you specified in the rule will generate an alert that appears and remains in the middle of your display, unlike the temporary new-mail notifications that Outlook shows by default in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

Microsoft Outlook New Mail Alert
Outlook's New Mail Alert appears in the middle of the screen and must be closed manually, making it more difficult to miss than the program's standard new-mail alerts. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Block senders or make their new messages easier to spot in Thunderbird
To keep mail from specific addresses out of your Thunderbird inbox, create a filter that deletes the mail on receipt. To add a filter, click Tools > Message Filters > New. Give the filter a name, choose Checking Mail or Manually Run in the drop-down menu at the top of the window, and make sure Match all of the following is selected.

In the second of the screen's drop-down menus, choose From. Leave the third drop-down at contains and enter the address or name in the text box to the right. In the Perform these actions window of the Filter Rules screen, choose Delete Message. Click OK and then close the Message Filter window.

Mozilla Thunderbird Filter Rules screen
Mozilla Thunderbird lets you block mail from specific senders by creating a filter that deletes the messages automatically. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Mozilla's free email client doesn't let you generate new-mail notifications similar to those in Outlook, but you can automatically prioritize mail from specific addresses, which makes them stand out in your inbox by listing them in a different color. Follow the steps above to create a new filter, and in the "Perform these actions" window of the Filter Rules screen, select Tag Message in the first drop-down and Important in the second. (Note that another option on the first drop-down lets you add a star to the message.)

The MozillaZine site provides more information about Thunderbird's message filters (including a tutorial) and about the program's junk-mail controls.