Outlook Migration: A Royal Pain In The…

For an established copy of Outlook this is simple: find the OUTLOOK.PST file that Outlook wants (right click at the top of the folder tree where it says Outlook Today, and go to Properties). Once you find that file, close Outlook and go rename the PST file to something like OUTLOOK.PSO. Now, invoke Outlook, and it will complain that it can’t find its PST file. There will be a dialog box, and you can use that to find any PST file on the network. It’s quite easy.

With a new installation of Outlook, it is not simple at all.

First, when you install Outlook, invoke it, and close it. It does not create a PST file, so there’s nothing to rename or delete. Your first move is to open Outlook, create a folder or two, move the “welcome” mail message from the Inbox to one of the folders, and exit. Now, it will have created a PST file that you can delete, and the next time you invoke Outlook it will complain about no PST file, and Bob’s your uncle. Now you can import your rules.

Well, not really. To import or export a Rules file, go to Tools | Rules Wizard | Options and proceed. Unfortunately, if you did what I told you in the paragraph above, there won’t BE a Rules Wizard option in Tools! In order to fix that, you need to create at least one account in the Outlook mail system. It doesn’t have to be a real account, but there must be one. Outlook In A Nutshell tells you how to do that. You will find that it’s either simple or hard depending on your experience. Either way, you’ll be well off getting the Nutshell book.

The reason you don’t want to set up real mail accounts until you have your rules in place should be obvious: Outlook, by default, goes out and looks at those accounts. If, like me, you’re networked so that you are online all the time, you’re likely to get a flood of mail as soon as Outlook does that, and unless your rules are in effect that mail won’t be sorted properly. Note, that if I unplug the Ethernet to Regina, Outlook won’t be able to get at the server and thus can’t find the PST file. Of course, there are ways to stop Outlook from gathering mail even though your system is connected to the Internet, but that’s one more thing to worry about.

Nearly Done

omThe good news is that once I imported my rules and set up my real mail accounts, everything worked. Almost. Since I am dealing with the same PST file that Princess created, everything must be in it. Right? Well, not quite.

I keep my subscriber list in a Contacts sub-folder. When I want to mail to subscribers, I start a new mail message, address it to myself, and then include the entire list as BCC or blind carbon copy. That way, everyone doesn’t get copies of everyone else’s name and address. Unfortunately, Outlook doesn’t show you the Contacts sub-folders when you try to invoke BCC. This is because while the top Contacts folder is automatically an Address Book, the folders under it are not, and only Address Books can be invoked in the To, CC, and BCC lines. Sure, you could type in the addresses manually, but no one is going to do that.

The remedy is right click again: right click the appropriate sub-folder, get Properties, go to the Address Book tab, and there’s a little box that will allow that folder to be an address book. Invoke it and Bob’s your uncle. The next time you send mail, you’ll be able to see that sub-folder as well as the main Contacts folder, and if you choose it you can add some or all of the names to your mail. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds; and the great news is that once all that is done, the migration of Outlook is complete, all’s right with the world or at least that part of it, the angels sing, and you are done.


Backing Up Outlook

Outlook 2000 has some internal backup features, and also lets you export stuff, but since Outlook 2000 stores data all over the place in odd little files with weird names and extensions, you are unlikely to back it up properly by hand.

Fortunately, there is a shareware program called Outback Plus that will do the job for you. This program finds all the relevant bits and pieces of Outlook including the PST file, wraps them up in a bundle, and stores that wherever you would like. The default storage location is to floppy disks, which seems a bit odd. It would take a lot of floppies to backup my Outlook 2000. However, it’s easy enough to tell it to store that file elsewhere.

Outback has one problem: when you tell it to back up Outlook, it shows a small fuel gauge and the notation that it’s making the backup files. The fuel gauge fills up in a couple of minutes. The system trundles on. And on. And on. There is absolutely no indication that anything is happening except that your hard disk access light is blinking, and in my case the network lights blinked as well (since it was getting the data from a remote server, and Windows 2000 has that lovely system tray icon). Now, a couple of seconds’ reflection will convince you there’s no real problem here. We’re moving around a gigabyte of data over the Ethernet, bringing it here, compressing it, and shipping it back there where it’s to be stored. It’s going to take some time. The problem is, there’s no indication that things are going well.

The remedy is to do nothing: have faith, be patient, and eventually Outback will do its thing, and you’ll have a full backup of Outlook as of that moment. It’s comforting.

Of course there’s another hitch: Before Outback can run properly, you have to turn off Outlook 2000. Outback then opens enough of Outlook’s data files to find out where it needs to look for the rest. If Outlook is running it can’t do that.

That’s all right: if Outlook is running nothing can back up that Outlook.pst file. My friend and systems guru Roland found that out the hard way. He set Larry Niven’s system up with Veritas BackupExec to run automatically every night.

BackupExec has a mode in which it will supposedly backup files even if they are running. Every morning the system log would sometimes report a backup error, sometimes not. This meant nothing to Niven, who is still struggling to be computer literate (he’s been able to lean on me for so long that he got in the habit, and it’s only recently that he’s decided to learn for himself). It didn’t mean a lot more to Roland until I told him that you can NEVER access, open, or copy a PST file while Outlook is using it. Outlook, being a Microsoft product, knows how to lock that file at a level no backup or other program can ever get to.

So, sometimes the PST file would backup properly, and sometimes it wouldn’t. What was happening, of course, was that sometimes Niven would exit the program before going to bed. Other times he wouldn’t. If he didn’t, the PST file wouldn’t be backed up.

This is Outlook 2000 in Internet Mode (aka IMO) configuration. If you installed it as Corporate Workgroup, it’s worse. There are two exit modes, “exit” and “exit and log off.” You must use the latter exit mode if you want to backup the PST file (it only logs you off Outlook, not your system). If you merely exit, MAPISP.EXW (the MAPI spooler, and don’t worry about it) continues to run in background, OUTLOOK.PST is still open, and your PST file is still locked and can’t be backed up.

There are two morals to this story. First, if you use Outlook, get Outback, set it up, and use it. Second, if you want your Outlook.PST file backed up — and believe me, you do — then you must exit the Outlook program while backup is going on. If there are any exceptions to these rules no one I know has heard of them.

The good news is that once you understand Outlook 2000 and how to back it up, you’ll be able to get a lot of use out of Outlook. It’s really a good program. Unfortunately, it “just growed” without much intelligent design, which makes it a lot harder to use and nearly impossible to understand. I guess that’s true of a lot of Microsoft programs. They work, but they’ve been growing so fast there’s no logical design.

One of these days, a clever outfit is going to do some real design and integration of office-applications programs. When that happens, Microsoft will be in trouble. Of course Microsoft could do the job itself, but that would require that it bring some users rather than coding gurus onto the design team.

More Migration Anomalies

Regina, the Compaq Dual Pentium 750, came with NT4 Service Pack 4 installed. I upgraded that to SP 6, but when it came time to make Regina my main Internet machine, I wanted Windows 2000. I find 2000 a bit easier to use and it’s certainly easier if I’m going to be installing new hardware.

Regina was originally configured at Compaq with one kind of video board, but at the last minute it changed to a 3dLabs Oxygen GVX1 GLINT board. This meant that before I could convert to Windows 2000 I had to go online and find drivers. They were readily available from the 3dLabs website. I got them, unzipped them, and now I was ready.

The Windows 2000 Professional upgrade went smoothly, but there remain some mysteries. First, getting Windows 2000 to accept the 3dLabs drivers was painful. I used Control Panel/Install New Hardware, and it found the board all right, but it insisted it didn’t need no stinking drivers. However, it also recognized the board’s co-processor as new hardware, so I told it to install drivers for that. This went smoothly, after which W2K decided it needed video board drivers after all. I pointed it to the folder where I had put the downloaded drivers, and got a message: Microsoft has never tried those drivers, and doesn’t guarantee them, and you will be taking your life in your hands if you install them, do you want to do it anyway?

Yes, blast your eyes. It did, and that went smoothly. So far so good. Now I had Windows 2000 and the proper video drivers.

What I didn’t have was a Documents and Settings folder. I asked around: did anyone else know of an instance of Windows 2000 Professional that didn’t have a Documents and Settings folder? No one did. Roland was so astonished that he wanted to come take a look. We tried reinstalling Windows 2000. That went smoothly, complete with the Oxygen GVX1 drivers, but the result was the same: no Documents and Settings folder.

Instead, the information is found in WINNT/Profiles. Clearly there’s some registry setting that tells Windows 2000 to set things up this way, and we’re looking into what it is. So far, we haven’t found any reports, maybe next month. Everything works. The SP750 is fast, and smooth, and all-around wonderful, and the Oxygen GVX1 board delivers terrific graphics to the 21″ ViewSonic PT 813 monitor at any resolution you want. It’s all great, and I love it.

We’re pretty certain that when Compaq originally installed Windows NT4 on Regina, it set some registry key that explicitly prevents Windows 2000 from moving the profiles to Documents and Settings. I expect I could fix it by mucking around in the registry, but why bother? I can live without a Documents and Settings folder: everything seems to work, and since I save everything on the server, it doesn’t really matter where things get put locally. For large organizations with strict policies regarding such things, however, this behavior may make a difference in your pre-upgrade planning, so it’s good that we encountered the issue here. After all, I do these silly things so you don’t have to.

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