Email security: apparently, the “Preview Pane” isn’t instant death after all.

Several years ago, some nasty worms made their way around the Internet, spreading via email.

Some of these could apparently install themselves and propagate simply by viewing an infected message in Microsoft Outlook’s “Preview Pane.”

The Preview Pane is a quick way to view emails, in case you’re out of the loop here. When you open your version of Outlook or Outlook Express, if there are only two columns, that means you’ve got the Preview Pane turned off. You have to double-click any messages you want to read.

If the right-hand column (where new message subject lines appear) is divided horizontally, and you can view the contents of a message in the lower section simply by single-clicking in the message in the top window, you’ve got Preview Pane turned on.

Anyway, after these viruses cause a moderate amount of trouble (and a whole lot of panic), the call went out: whatever you do, never turn Preview Pane ON!

Well, that was several years ago, and occasionally things do get fixed when it comes to software. Basically, if you’re running Outlook 2003 or any later version, or are running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed, it’s not an issue anymore.

In other words, on these later versions of Outlook, when you use the preview pane to view a message, you’re not…opening opening the message, you’re just sort of looking at the text. Any embedded HTML or images will not appear, unless you’ve set the option to automatically do so.

The default setting is to not run HTML or pictures automatically, so unless you’ve messed around with your settings a whole bunch, you should be fine. If you get image-rich emails from places like Best Buy and Amazon that show nothing but a bunch of “red X’s” instead of pictures, and you have to tell the software to show them, you’re set up right.

If you still want to turn Preview Pane off, click “View” at the top of the screen, then select “Layout” from the menu. You can turn it off from there.

I turned Preview Pane back on just the other day, after about seven years of keeping it turned off. On my machine, Outlook always seems to take too long to open messages the other way, like the computer was thinking an awful long time just to open an email message, so I already prefer the new way. Or the old way. Whatever you’d call it.