Sometimes we make working with technology harder than it has to be. I remember how mortified I was when the Ur-Guru asked me why I wasn’t using any shortcut keys on the PC in my then-office at the University of Warwick. The answer was simple: I’d been using Macs until that year, and I didn’t know that Windows machines had keyboard shortcuts. There was no Command (Apple) key to hold down, after all. Once I learned that CTRL-S in Windows was the same thing as Command-S on a Mac, I started using keyboard shortcuts.
And when I first had to start using Outlook, I backed up the hard way, by using the File|Import and Export feature and going through multiple steps to create a secondary .pst file. It’s not entirely my fault I was doing it that way: I was just following Microsoft’s instructions for backing up Outlook 2000.
Once again it was the Ur-Guru who came to my rescue, telling me that I could just drag the original .pst file onto my external hard drive. Of course, I did have to find it first, and Windows doesn’t make that easy. Now I set Replicator to copying the file automatically every time I start my computer. My mail, contacts, and calendar change more frequently than the rest of my data combined, and this seems to be true for most people I know.
It turns out I’m not the only one to have approached Outlook backup the hard way. One of the readers of the FileSlinger Backup Blog mentioned that she was backing up her Outlook .pst files, a task she undertakes every three months. “The contacts, calendar and tasks are a snap,” she said. “What is time consuming is the email backup, especially if you like folders and subfolders. Ugh.”
She was actually exporting each separate mail folder to a different .pst file, and this took hours. When I told her that all she had to do was copy the original .pst file, she was stunned.
“Wow, if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, then you can highlight the “Outlook Today” icon (all email subfolders plus tasks, calendar and contacts reside there), then go to File>Import and Export…This is the process I’ve been using for each subfolder, then subfolder of the subfolders. Is this right? If so, you saved me hours of time and eliminated procrastination.”
In fact, backing up Outlook is even easier than that. Just in case anyone else was spending hours on backing up Outlook when they didn’t have to, I thought I’d better say something about it.
As I said above, before you can copy your outlook.pst folder, you have to find it. In Windows XP, this folder normally lives in C:\Documents and Settings\your_username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. In order to find it, you have to have Windows set to show system files. (You do this in Windows Explorer under Tools|Folder Options|View. Make sure that “Hide protected operating system files” is not checked. )
If it’s not there, just do a search for files with .pst extensions. I know one client whose outlook.pst ended up installed to her Windows directory for some reason, but the backup process works just the same: drag and drop.
I gave these directions to my reader, and she said “That’s great. I just found the path to outlook.pst (and I am, indeed, on XP). Unfortunately, the size is 356 MB, so it’s time to pare it down. Of course, emptying the Deleted folder and much of the Sent folder usually helps…Is there a way to test it, or to view what you have saved? My guess is that you won’t really know until you import it into a new computer, or into a newly-installed Outlook.”
This is where another of the Ur-Guru’s lessons comes in: you don’t need to import .pst files. You can just open them, and you can have more than one .pst file open in Outlook at a time. Just go to File|Open|Outlook Data File. As long as the file you’re opening hasn’t been password-protected (or you know the password if it has), you can access everything in it.
Microsoft does have a free Personal Folders Backup tool for Outlook, which automatically creates a backup of your .pst file every few days. You can download it from the Office Updates site. You need to use Internet Explorer to use the Microsoft website.
And finally, for any of you Mac users out there who have Entourage, the Mac equivalent of Outlook, you can find backup instructions at http://www.entourage.mvps.org/backup.html.
Now you have no excuse not to back up your Outlook data.