Friday, October 26, 2007

Outlook's Ticking Time Bomb

Q. Recently, my Outlook email program stopped working and I lost all my email. A friend told me that this was probably due to my email folder getting too large. What’s up with that? How do I prevent this from happening again?

A. The explosive growth of high speed internet, the popularity of digital cameras and some people’s tendency to forward every single funny email to your email address have vastly increased the amount of data we store in our email programs. Unfortunately, many of you are still using older email program that are very restrictive on how much data can be stored. Recently, I have seen a rash of clients who have run into this limitation resulting in the loss of some vital contact information and unexpected down-time.

Please note that the problem we are about to discuss apply only to people using Outlook Express and older versions of Outlook including Outlook XP and Outlook 2000. Outlook 2003 and 2007 and Windows Mail users are generally safe from the problem we are about to discuss.

Outlook Express stores each of its folders (Inbox, Sent Mail, Personal Folders) in separate files called DBX files. Outlook (the Big Brother of Outlook Express that comes with Microsoft Office) stores all its data in one large file called a PST file. If you try to pack more than 2 gigabytes of data into one of these DBX or PST files, Outlook and Outlook Express will suddenly stop working and all the data in those files become corrupt. When this happens, you will lose at least some (if not all) of your email or contact information. Outlook will refuse to work until you fix the problem. Microsoft provides a free utility to fix corrupted files but we have had mixed results from it and other similar utilities. It’s best to avoid the problem altogether.

To prevent this disaster, Microsoft provides an online update that provides better protection against PST files growing past the 2GB size limit. There is no such update for Outlook Express users. For those users, I recommend you delete mail you no longer need or move old email to a separate folder.

The best protection from losing all your Outlook data is to back up your important data on a regular basis. There are a number of utilities you can use to make backup copies of your data. Please use them or lose it!

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

Nice job explaining the DBX/PST size overload due to over-zealous family members who love to send you 200 pictures every time their baby breathes. The good news is that Outlook 2003/2007 comes with a program that will reallocate the memory within those files to their proper sectors. While I don't recall the name of the exe itself, it is located within the binaries folder of outlook. In most cases, this is located at C:/program files/(office). This tool works very well, and will in 90% of the cases I have delt with, recover those elusive clusters.