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Outlook Express is a very popular desktop email program. Unfortunately, it can be touchy about its files, particularly when it comes to compaction.
About 6 months ago I started getting a message (apparently from Outlook Express, but even when OE is not running) saying "To free up disc space OE can compact messages. This may take up to a few minutes. -OK/Cancel". This has become very invasive and, even after OKing (and losing use of the commuter for several minutes), can pop up again within seconds/minutes and re-pop up within seconds of being canceled. Cause and cure? I've deleted a lot of spam and deleted messages in case these were the trigger.
My honest opinion?
Change email programs.
I'll discuss that option, the bug that you're seeing, and what you might do. But first, I'm going to spend a couple of minutes explaining why I hold that opinion.
I don't recommend or disrecommend products lightly. But what I will do is pay attention to the experiences of the users that post questions here on Ask Leo!.
Outlook Express is a fine, fine email program. Because it's free and available on every copy of Windows XP, and came free with Internet Explorer prior to that, it's a very popular email program.
Unfortunately, more people report more problems and lost mail to me having used Outlook Express than any other desktop email program, hands down. Next to losing all your email in a free email account, it's probably my biggest source of email related data loss stories.
The most common culprit is, in fact, the very database compaction that you're asking about. I'm sure it works well for many, if not most people, but when it fails it can be disastrous. Even backups can be problematic because Outlook Express is so touchy about the files and format of its email database.
And that, perhaps, is the underlying problem: Outlook Express uses a proprietary and apparently very touchy database format to store your emails. While there are third party utilities, often expensive ones at that, to recover, it's simply not a particularly robust set up.
It's hard to move, hard to recover, hard to repair and apparently easy to break.
But it's free.
The good news is that there are so many alternatives now, including free programs like Thunderbird that have almost everything Outlook Express does, that if it's at all feasible I recommend jumping ship at the first sign of trouble. If not before.
With that out of my system...
I recommend you read this thread out on the Microsoft public discussion group. There you'll find all sorts of recommendations that boil down to:
Compact regularly, or you may suffer database corruption.
If you're up to date, OE will auto-compact after every 100 shut downs if you haven't.
Never interfere with the compact process or you may suffer database corruption.
Don't get too fancy in your folder organization or you may suffer database corruption.
Disable your anti-virus programs scanning of email and email files, or you may suffer database corruption.
Don't let your folders get too big or you may suffer database corruption.
Backup, backup, backup in case you suffer database corruption.
As I said, for many, many people Outlook Express works, and works well. But in my experience fielding questions and hearing of problems, as soon as your own needs start to get more sophisticated in just about any way, it's time to move on.
A note about Windows Mail - the Outlook Express replacement on Windows Vista - and Windows Live Mail - the Outlook Express replacement you can download free from Microsoft.
My feelings on these guys are mixed. They have both apparently abandoned the problematic data store format used by Outlook Express, which in my opinion is great news. It's still proprietary, but hopefully more robust and recoverable.
However given that there are free alternatives with a stronger track record, if you're considering a move I'd be much more tempted to move to these as more reliable "known quantities".
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