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Outlook Express and Outlook run on the assumption that you will keep emails within the programs data folders. Saving them to your documents creates a difficult retrieval situation.

Hi Leo. I bought your Maintaining Windows XP guide and was most satisfied with my purchase. I subscribe to your newsletter and I have referred lots of people to Ask Leo! – keep up the good work. You refer to a new publication Maintaining Windows 7 – I doubt I am alone in wondering when this will be released. Please give your readers more details as many of us eagerly await its release.

My question: I now run Windows 7 Professional after using XP for years. I also upgraded to MS Outlook 2007 after being a die-hard Outlook Express user. No issues with either Windows 7 nor Outlook, but most surprised and frustrated to find that I cannot open my literally hundreds and hundreds of Outlook Express emails saved into various folders in My Documents over the years to keep OE small and stable. What to do? Many saved OE emails have attachments too. Googling showed that I am not alone in this, but presented no clear solution to open the OE files and attachments on my present system. The only workaround I have hit on is to save all the files to a pen drive and then forward them to my new PC via another PC still using OE. Not really practical at all. Any suggestions appreciated.

Keep up the good work and bring on your next guide.

In this excerpt from Answercast #24, I look at a case where Outlook Express files have been saved into the My Documents folder structure and the difficulties in retrieving them from another email program.

Ask Leo! computer guides

Well, thanks for the kind words on the Windows XP Guide.

As for the Windows 7 Guide: the first volume on backing up... I'm hoping to have out within the month. I was actually working on it before I started recording this particular Answercast.

Saved Outlook Express files

So, the Outlook Express issue: unfortunately, I'm going to disappoint you.

The problem here is that there's no real standard way of saving emails to a folder as you've done. My assumption is you probably dragged and dropped, but I'm not sure exactly what format the resulting email message is in. Clearly, it's not necessarily in a format that Outlook itself can understand natively.

What was intended by the programs (both Outlook Express and Outlook) is to keep all of your emails in the Outlook Express folder structure; because Outlook can import all of the Outlook Express emails as long as they're still in Outlook Express' folders.

Possible solution

Now, one thing that I just thought of that you might try:

  • On that machine running Outlook Express, drag and drop them back into a series of folders in Outlook Express;
  • And then see if you can get Outlook to import the mail from those folders.

I'm hesitant to really suggest that, because my suspicion is that it's not going to work or not going to work very cleanly.

Unfortunately, I really don't have a good solution for this other than, as you said, moving them to a different machine that has Outlook Express and forwarding them on.

XP mode

If you've got Windows 7 Professional, you might consider installing XP mode, which will not only run Windows XP within a window in Windows 7, but it comes with Windows XP own copy of Outlook Express.

You may be able to manipulate the files somehow that way and get the data out of them that you want. Unfortunately, like I said, there just isn't a clean solution for this problem that I'm aware of.

Next from Answercast 24 – coming soon: Can I keep my IP address from changing when I switch out my

Article C5432 - June 6, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

June 8, 2012 12:00 PM

I've been saving OE mail to folders for years, and it's a neat way to organise the mail into groups too.
The method I use is: open Outlook Express and select the mail folder you want: usually Inbox or Sent. When the mail you want appears in OE, highlight one entry - the top one's fine if it's highlighted already. Use Ctrl+a and ALL the mail will now be highlighted (something I really miss now I've migrated to Thunderbird; if anyone knows a keyboard route to get this Select-All functionality back, please post). Create a folder and open it then drag and drop from the fully-highlighted OE display into this folder. Now be patient, this can seem like it's not working as it can take minutes if there's lots of mail. You'll know it's done when the new folder suddenly starts filling with .eml files - which can be read by OE6 as well as Thunderbird so it's a great way to organise mail transfers, rather than using Import which imports the lot as-is. Once you have all your mail as .eml files (copies, of course, it doesn't affect the originals in their .dbx home), you can arrange them by date, etc., and block-delete any you don't want, or block transfer to other folders as you wish.
I archived all my mail by year, in Inbox and Sent folders within each year. I aslo backed-up all the OE6 files [XP Path: C:\Documents and Settings\User Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{Folder named with a string of Hex numbers, varies by machine}\Microsoft\Outlook Express] (thanks Leo). There will usually be five .dbx files, containing the mail in OE6 format. You'll probably want Inbox.dbx and Sent.dbx, there could be more .dbx files if you've separated the mail by year, say, at some point, but they will show the names you've assigned so they are easy to locate.
So for each year, I have saved in my own folder and sub folders, both .dbx files and .eml files for each year. The good bit is that the .eml files can usually be read by other programs, the .dbx only by OE6. So you can move the .eml files to any folder you like. In my case, as soon as Thunderbird became my new default mail client, all .eml files on my system changed their icons over to Thunderbird from Outlook Express and now open with that program instead.

June 8, 2012 2:29 PM

I have Thunderbird 10.0.5 (up-to-date as of now) and Ctrl-A works just fine. Also via the menus: Edit > Select > All.
In both cases all mails in the folder will be selected and can be exported using File > SaveAs > File which creates one *.eml file for each message in the folder.

June 9, 2012 4:00 PM

OE emails saved into My Documents with a file extension of .eml can be accessed by Internet Explorer browser. All you have to do is change the .eml to .mht. At any rate, this works for me. I am using IE8 on a WinXP system but it should work on any Windows OS.

June 12, 2012 7:30 AM


I was able to read the article from and It helped me to resolve the issue of reading Outlook Express email saved into my machine.

June 22, 2012 10:05 PM

I wish that I could print the comments as there are some I would like to try; my alternative was to save this web page to my favorites.

Mark J
June 23, 2012 4:11 AM

You should be normally able to simply print the page, comments and all, or save the web page which would also include the comments. Another alternative would be to "print" the page to a pdf document. A third alternative: open a word processor or text editor, click Ctrl-A to select all of the page then click Ctrl-C to copy the selected text and past it into a document. (If you want to paste it into Word document, Word has to be open before copying or else it will clean out the clipboard).

October 2, 2012 2:02 PM

There are lots of ways to do this easily. The method I think is the easiest is to download the free or trial version of the program Postbox. Install the program, but don't set it up to send or receive mail. Then close Postbox. Next, make sure your computer opens all .eml files with Postbox. Then all you have to do is double click the .eml file and it will open just as it did in Outlook Express, and all the attachments will be there, just as they were in Outlook Express. There are other free programs besides Postbox that you can use to do this. I just like Postbox because it's clean and neat, and the interface is very similar to that of Outlook Express.

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