When I was preparing for my most recent visit to Cleveland to see my parents (that’s Cleveland, Ohio, for any of you reading this from outside the USA), my father said, “Bring a PC.”
I haven’t traveled without a computer since the days when they made you turn your computer on at security, back when you had to hunt all over the airport to find a power outlet, long before wi-fi was invented. Now that I have this nifty netbook (on which I’m typing while waiting for the plane from Chicago to Oakland to fill up), there was no chance I wouldn’t bring it along, especially since I had an appointment to talk WordPress with my brother’s law firm. (I won’t link to their website; it would embarrass them. There’s a story behind the website, and it isn’t pretty.)
But what my father meant was “Bring something that runs Windows.” Dad retired at the end of 2008, and my stepmother had convinced him to switch to a Mac, something she’d done about a year before that.
Now, I have nothing against Macs. I used to own one myself. (Okay, that was back in the days of System 7.1.) The hardware is beautiful and the UI (user interface) is slick, though I’m not sure it’s really so much more intuitive for someone with no experience.
Regardless, they have some definite drawbacks if you’re coming out of 40 years in corporate America, and one of them is the fact that Microsoft Office for the Mac does not work the same way as Office for Windows. (I know, they’re coming out with a new version of it. And I also know, and explained to Dad, that you can run Windows quite nicely in a Virtual Machine on a Mac—something you’d have a much harder time doing in reverse.)
The big problem, in this case, was Outlook’s famous proprietary PST file. Dad had three of them, given to him by the IT staff at BP when he turned in his company laptop (an undistinguished Dell). Outlook somehow (Microsoft experts, feel free to help me out) manages to store your contacts, calendar, e-mail messages, attachments, tasks, and everything else in a single PST file. But without a working copy of Outlook, getting anything out of that PST file is…just a bit difficult.
Not only won’t Entourage for Mac won’t open PST files, Microsoft appears to have entirely failed to make any kind of conversion tool. The “Genius Bar” at the local Apple store couldn’t help either; they insist they know nothing at all about Windows programs. So it was up to Yours Truly, the family geek, to find a way to restore Dad’s e-mail from his backup CDs.
Dad had already had his contacts exported to an Excel spreadsheet (though he didn’t know how to import them into Entourage, and it turns out that the contact fields in Entourage and those in Outlook don’t match, so you have to map them onto each other by hand), and the calendar didn’t matter, but he wanted the e-mail attachments. Someone had turned him onto a program called O2M (for Office to Mac) by a company called Little Machines. (Based in San Francisco, as it happens.)
The program is only $10, primarily because it relies on a working copy of Outlook (and, of course, a Windows computer to run it on) for most of its function. I imagine that its creators envision their customers using it before they get rid of their PCs, rather than afterwards. I downloaded the Outlook XP/2003 version onto Mena (since I’m still using Office 2003 on her, so as not to tax her more limited resources), tested it, and then paid for the license. Then I copied Dad’s PST files onto a USB stick (no, not the one that got smashed), opened them in Outlook, and started up O2M.
As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is very straightforward.
Once you’ve checked the mailboxes you want (in this case, I excluded all my own mail, contacts, and calendar items), O2M asks whether you want to include all your attachments or just those under a certain size or in a certain date range, and then proceeds on to calendar and contact items. Dad’s PST files only contained mail items, so they were easy to export, but it took a while for the program to process the messages. (It seems to run pretty fast, but it has to handle them one by one.)
The output of O2M’s e-mail conversion is mbox files. I remember those from the days when I used Eudora. The curious thing about Entourage, however, is that even though it will, allegedly, import mbox files, the import process didn’t work; the files on my memory stick remained grayed out. So I decided to RTFM (Read the Freaking Manual, which you get to by clicking that little “Help” button in the top left of the O2M window), and discovered that there are special directions for importing the O2M files to Entourage.
Here’s how to import mbox mail files into Microsoft’s Entourage program:
- Start up Entourage. If this is your first time using it, you might want to create one or more folders where your imported emails can be dragged and stored.
- Drag the mbox file you want to import into Entourage’s folder list and drop it. Entourage will turn the mbox file into a new mail folder. Open the new folder, and you’ll find all of your imported emails inside it. If you like, you can move one or more emails from the new folder to other folders to organize them.
Dad had a folder for “Imported Mail” in Entourage already, so I dragged all the mail into that, renamed the mail folders to something less clumsy, re-created the subfolder structures—and we were in business. All the attachments had come through.
So if you’re leaving the corporate rat-race and want to switch from Windows to Mac, I can recommend O2M. And I definitely recommend getting it before you dispose of the Windows machine. Otherwise you might spend almost a year waiting around for your geeky offspring to help you turn your backup CDs from useless pieces of plastic back into your e-mail.