Working from home is great- freedom and no long meetings. However, there are some technology convenience that are sure to be missed. Around the holidays, one that's taken-for-granted is the simple function of setting an vacation auto-reply in your email. It's fairly straight-forward when working in an office with a Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook for email. Working at home, most people instead use use webmail such as Gmail or AOL. Some of these popular email services do offer a vacation auto-reply, but not all, and the functions vary.
Gmail has the most robust out-of-office responder. You have the ability to set custom messages. It also doesn't reply to emails marked as spam. This is important because often if a spammer gets a response to a sent mail, your address gets added to their list as verified, even if the message going back to them is a canned reply. Another excellent feature Gmail has is that it only sends a person one response every four days. This reduces the chance for an email loops between two auto-responders replying to each other.
Vacation Time! in the Labs lets you set dates to automatically turn the auto-response on and off.
Yahoo's auto-responder is fairly similar to Gmail's. Like Gmail, it won't respond to spam. You can write a custom message and also the dates you will be gone. After the return date, the auto-reply turns off.
AOL has a vacation responder, but it is very minimalistic. You have three options- None, "I am unavailable," and "I am away until . . . ." Each person will only receive the message once, which is nice. You have to manually turn it off, however.
Unlike AOL, Comcast email does have a customizable response. Strangely, according to their help section they don't recommend using their own auto-responder! Unlike Yahoo and Gmail, Comcast's out-of-office reply will respond to spammers thereby validating your email and potentially opening you to additional spam.
Desktop Email Clients
What about if you use Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook for your webmail? The short answer is you can't set a vacation response. The longer answer is you can set up a custom filter and reply, but after all that work is done you still have to leave your computer and email client on all the time. If you're leaving for a week or longer, that's one way to waste a lot of electricity. So, even if you use Thunderbird or Outlook, it is better to set the auto-responder up in your webmail.
Enjoy your holiday vacations and leave worrying about email to the software!
Gmail, setting a vacation response
Yahoo auto-reply help
Comcast support (click on "High-Speed Internet" and then on "E-mail")
AOL, how to set up an away-message
Setting up a Thunderbird vacation response