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I personally consider Outlook Express a ticking time bomb. As you accumulate more and more email, the risk of encountering a problem goes up - but there is one way to protect yourself.

Is it safe to keep Outlook Express? Outlook Express is the only email that I've ever used as it came with my computer. It gives me no trouble at all as I'm a very light user. Is there any danger that some day I will wake up and have nothing? I'm 85 years old and not too eager to learn another program. Am I safe with Outlook Express? I have Microsoft Windows XP, Home Edition, Version 2002, SP3.

In this excerpt from Answercast #61, I look at the dangers of reaching the Outlook Express data limit and how to protect yourself if you want to keep using the program.

Outlook Express safety

You now, I'm really reluctant to say that you're safe with Outlook Express because it does have known issues. Most notably, the databases can go corrupt if you eventually end up accumulating too much mail - which is what people do after they've been using it for years and years and years.

However, I definitely understand your situation. Learning a new email program is not something to necessarily be taken lightly.

How to be safe with OE

So, here's my recommendation: back up. Back up your computer.

Make sure that the back ups of your computer include your email database; your email folders. I've got articles on the site that will show you exactly where the Outlook Express data storage is kept. Make sure that's included in your backup; all of it.

In fact, if you can, get used to getting regular, full machine image backups made. That way, you're backing up not just your email, but all of your pictures and your documents and whatever else might be on your computer. Do that regularly.

That way, if one day you do wake up and Outlook Express isn't working (and all your email appears to be gone), you can revert to the most recent backup and it will all come back. Then, you can make a decision before you download any more email on what to do. It may be that you could (at that point) be forced into getting a new email system.

That could happen. But you don't have to do that (as long as you're well backed up) until there's actually a reason for it.

Backing up protects you

I personally consider Outlook Express a ticking time bomb. Like I said, as you accumulate more and more email, the risk of there being a problem goes up over time.

Fortunately, what you consider to be a "light usage" may in fact be so light that you'll never, ever encounter one of these problems. That's fantastic. But I don't know. I don't know what you mean by "light;" you don't know what I mean by "light" or "heavy."

You could be very slowly over the course of many years accumulating a lot of email. And the threshold within Outlook Express that says, "Whoops, this is too much. I don't know what to do with it anymore," could be reached.

The best way to protect yourself (and that's all you really need to do; protect yourself) is to start getting regular backups of your machine. Keep using Outlook Express then, knowing that if or when something does eventually go wrong, you can always recover to the most recent backup.

Article C5920 - October 15, 2012 « »

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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.

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10 Comments
Joseph
October 16, 2012 9:36 AM

I have used Outlook Express for over 10 years and have never had any problems with it, except for my doing thing incorrectly. Although, I back up my e-mails at least two times a week just in case; but never had to rely on it. I've been lucky I guess. Course, I take all the precautions seriously.

Ron Hoffman
October 16, 2012 10:08 AM

Well, there you go again. Jumping on Outlook Express but you are not being as bad as you have been. I have been using Outlook Express since Win95 and I do make a new folder about every four months and move all the Emails from the Inbox into it. I name the folder the date I did it. I have had friends that could not send Emails out and it turned out to be there was too many Emails in the Send folder. I just had them delete them or move them to a new folder of their choice. If someone comes out with something better then Outlook Express then I might change. Windows Mail, Live Mail or Thunderbird do not fit that bill. In fact they don't even come close. Maybe some day someone may figure out what is needed for a good Email client.

PeterM42
October 16, 2012 10:52 AM

After a lot of searching on the internet, I managed to port Windows Mail from Vista onto Windows 7 and find it EXCELLENT. It clearly stores data differently from Outlook Express, but has similar functionality (with some improvements!).
Regular backups done for safety of course.

Hilary
October 16, 2012 11:13 AM

I transferred my Outlook Express--or TRIED to transfer it--to Truecrypt. It never worked; no matter how often I "apply"ed and "OK'd, the drive never changed. Then, when I exported OE email to Truecrypt, the email eventually disappeared. I don't ask anyone to believe it; I just know that it's true. It didn't disappear immediately, and I was able to rename certain emailed correspondence to which I wanted quick access. That's how I know it disappeared: I renamed the alphanumeric files. When I went back to TC to find them, they were dust in the wind.

DAVID
October 16, 2012 2:55 PM

I simply copy all e-mails routinely into a folder on the desktop. All backed up!

Not really. If you lose your hard disk, for example, then you'll lose both your Outlook Express data AND whatever you've copied to a folder elsewhere on that same hard disk.
Leo
17-Oct-2012

Sri
October 17, 2012 1:42 AM

@Ron Hoffman - your method is what I also used to do (but I am on Linux and Thunderbird now). The main issue with OE is the storage method where too many emails make it to crash. I cannot ever understand, why corporations end the life of a popular product and dish out something new that no one wants. They could just improve the storage element of OE.

DAVID
October 17, 2012 10:10 AM

Thanks Leo - but this time I'm ahead of you. (Having lost a complete hard drive 11 years ago I learned the lesson!) I not only copy every e-mail to a folder on the desktop, but systematically keep a briefcase copy of EVERYTHING in various pendrives - and then when they're full, onto CDs. (I think even my wife can see the logic in all this braces-and-belt routine, though she does occasionally shout about the time spent on such things.)

DAVID
October 17, 2012 10:12 AM

p.s. (Oh and another hard drive gave up to ''metal fatigue'' apparently about 7 years ago.) :-)

Russell Smith
October 18, 2012 2:18 AM

Hi Leo,
After reading your post,I assume that this article convey a message to outlook express users about to take precaution before corruption. Points to remember as follows -
1- Take backup on daily basis
2- Routine check of DBX file size
3- Making effective rule for incoming messages for example user define folder to reduce number of messages in inbox folder

I hope my comment provides a better guideline to outlook express user.

Thanks & Regards
Russell Smith

BAW30s
October 18, 2012 4:49 AM

I've been using Outlook Express for 10 years, and I do recognise this problem, having suffered from corruption of the Inbox a couple of times; as Leo says, it's unlikely to happen to a light user, with hundreds rather than thousands of messages in a folder.
I normally empty my Inbox and archive the messages to other folders and DVD every year. After archiving, I compact it; if I didn't, it would continue to grow in size despite removal of the messages. If it were to reach 2GB in size, OE would be unable to open it. (In my experience, this would be about 25,000 messages!).
If your inbox appears empty when you open it, or if messages from a particular period are missing, don't compact it, as the messages will be permanently lost. It's worth checking the store folder for a back-up which may have been made if the folder was compacted recently.
The corrupted dbx file can be analysed by a program such as Advanced Outlook Express Repair which can extract the individual messages into a folder of choice. The corrupt Inbox.dbx file should be removed from the store folder, so prompting OE to create a new Inbox.dbx. I would also create a new Recovered Inbox folder into which the recovered messages can be dragged and dropped without congesting the new Inbox.
Now that on-line inboxes are almost unlimited in size I configure Outlook Express to leave a copy of my messages on the browser until I empty them from Deleted Items. It is possible to make OE download them again by deleting or renaming the Pop3uidl.dbx file in the store folder.
In addition to the normal backups, which are essential in case of hard drive failure, a program like Rollback or Comodo Time Machine can easily restore a corrupt file, including a dbx, from a snapshot.

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