Dismantle traps before moving mail

by George Skarbek - 27th September 2005

To look at the book, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here

Q: I am trying to move mail folders in Outlook Express to a new computer so that Outlook will read them. We don't seem to be able to do this, so we can't access any of the emails on the old computer. Any ideas?

A: The required steps are: locate the mail files on the old computer and copy them to the equivalent location on the new computer. However, there are a couple of possible traps. The most important thing to remember is to copy the mail to the new computer before you have received or sent more than a couple of test messages, because if you have an existing mailbox it will make it very much harder to keep both.

When you use Windows Explorer to look in the various folders to find the mail, you will not succeed because they are hidden files. Use Windows Explorer and right-click on the folder Documents and Setting and select Search; for the file name enter *.DBX and then in the Advanced Options select Hidden Files and Folders. Having located your mailboxes, highlight all that you wish to copy and click on Edit, Copy, or Copy to Folder if you have a backup folder for the mail. Then you copy these files onto a CD or a USB drive.

If they are too large, from Outlook Express you should click on File, Folder, Compact all folders to reduce file size and remove redundant space.

Before copying to the new computer, unless you have no mail on the new computer that you wish to keep, you should rename your files. Otherwise if you copy the file, say, Inbox.dbx, over to the new computer, it will overwrite and delete all mail in the new Inbox. If you rename it Inbox-old.dbx you may still be able to see all your old mail, but this is not guaranteed. You must copy these files to the folder that contains the new mailboxes.

In Windows XP the mail is usually, but not always, stored in the folder C:\Documents and Settings\Your Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\ {DB615905-D44A-4DCE-A124- DAA12DE7E366}\ Microsoft\Outlook Express. If you restart Outlook Express and the newly copied folders do not appear, you must close Outlook Express and delete, or better still rename, Folders.dbx to Folders.dbx.OLD.

Restarting Outlook Express will find the new folders. The file Folders.dbx is a master index and stores the tree structure of mail folders and the lists of newsgroups (if any). Deleting it will mean you will lose the mail tree structure if you have one. Fortunately, in most cases this can be quickly and easily re-created.
Some rules (if any exist) may have to be edited.

One other trap is that if you are copying from the CD, you must remove the Read-only attribute from these files, otherwise Outlook Express will not be able to open them. Do this from Windows Explorer by right-clicking on the files, select Properties and remove the Read-only tick.

To copy the address book, find and copy the .WAB file. In XP it is usually in C:\Documents and Settings\YourName\Application Data\Microsoft\Address Book folder.

As you want to change the mail reader to Outlook, the mail files can be copied into a temporary folder and imported from there.
For readers who have Outlook on the old computer and not Outlook Express, the above steps apply but they only need one file, a PST file usually called Outlook.PST. It contains all the mail, address book and calendar. There may be another file called Archive.PST that contains older mail.


Q: I would like to back up my .PST file but it is 864 MB and that is too large to fit on a CD. What do you suggest?

A: There are several actions that you can do. Probably the best option is to use a program such as WinZip and compress that PST file. It should approximately halve in size, allowing the Zip file to be easily copied to the CD and then you can unzip it.

You can use one of the many file-splitting programs available to split the PST file into two or more sections and use two CDs. One such program is Dariolius from: kanastacorp.com/dariolius.html. If you have to restore the file, this is then easily done.

Another option that may be applicable is to delete old message from the Deleted Items folder, or to archive other older messages, especially if they have large attachments. Emptying the Deleted folder is another option to save space. However, this will be only a temporary measure as your mail will grow again.
One final suggestion is to replace your CD writer (burner) with a DVD writer as this will give you 4.7 GB of capacity.

Blank DVDs have dropped below 50 cents in bulk, and a DVD writer can be purchased for less than $75. Installation is relatively simple; finding out how to open the computer case is the hardest part. With a DVD burner your mailbox can grow substantially and you will still be able to back it up.

To look at the book, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here