Leo, I’m finding myself confronted with an unexpected problem. We bought an HP Pavilion desktop PC for my wife, which runs Windows 8.1. However, the entire correspondence with HP regarding the details of the transaction was done by email on my computer running Windows XP, SP3 and Outlook Express.
Now, I printed all of it out, of course but to be on the safe side, I also saved the entire correspondence to CD. Our usual total email traffic is done on my computer in order to avoid any mix-ups. Now, when my computer bites the dust, our entire collection of email and also other correspondence written on that Windows XP PC will be useless and lost since it cannot be read on the new PC running Windows 8.1. Would you have any idea how to get around this problem? Perhaps installing Outlook Express the new PC, but I suspect that Windows 8.1 will not take this.
In my opinion, there’s just no debate. The age of Outlook Express is over. It’s time to move on to something that’s less buggy and actually supported.
But that does leave many existing Outlook Express users with a big problem: what do you do with all the email that you have stored in your existing Outlook Express installation?
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Switch then move…
One of Outlook Express’s many problems is that it makes moving the Outlook data store very difficult. It’s a proprietary format and it’s very, very fragile. It’s easy to have it not work at all, to lose mail, or experience all sorts of other associated issues that make it kind of a mess, to put it politely. It’s very difficult to complete a data transfer successfully.
My preferred approach doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it will work for you since you have your existing Windows XP machine. It’s absolutely the easiest solution that I know of.
And that’s this: on the XP machine that’s running Outlook Express, install another email program. I recommend something like Thunderbird, but I believe Microsoft Office’s Outlook will do, and Windows Live Mail might do as well. Chose an email program that will allow you to import all of your Outlook Express email.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll have something that’s very easy to move to another machine and even to another operating system. With Thunderbird, for example, you can then move that data to Windows Vista, 7 or 8; even to a Mac or Linux machine. It’s actually pretty cool.
Move then switch…
The second approach is if it’s already too late… in other words, if you no longer have Windows XP, but you do have a copy of the original mail store.
On a machine that cannot run Outlook Express, like your Windows 8.1 machine, you have to make sure that the entire original Outlook Express data store is available. In other words, you’ve recovered it from a backup or you’ve copied it to your new machine before you decommissioned the Windows XP machine. Either way, the data store that Outlook Express uses has been copied or saved somehow, and is now accessible on your new machine.
You’ll find it on the old XP machine backup or hard drive, typically buried under a folder in your user account. But one relatively quick way to find it is to simply search the hard disk for folders.dbx, which is a file in a root of the Outlook data store.
Now, like in the first approach, install another email program: Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, Outlook from Microsoft Office, or something similar. Configure that email and that program, as appropriate, to access your current email.
Now use that program’s import feature to import your Outlook Express mail.
This doesn’t work with all mail programs, but it does work with several. It’s essentially the same thing we did by installing an email program on your Windows XP machine. The issue is that once the data store has been moved to a machine that does not actually run Outlook Express, a little bit of information about where the data store is located or how it’s formatted is lost. Some of the import utilities actually rely on that, and thus they won’t work in this moved situation – where you’re actually trying to do the import on something other than Windows XP. But it can work, and in many cases it does.
And then once you’ve done that, you’ve got your email in this other email program.
The key to both of these scenarios is to get your email out of Outlook Express’s proprietary, and unfortunately fairly fragile database format. Typically, all that really means is importing into some other email program.
The good news is that most of the other email programs we’re talking about actually make it relatively easy to then move the email from one machine to another.
Move XP itself
There is a third solution. It’s more complex, and I mention it only as a last resort.
In Windows 7 Pro, and better, you can install what’s called XP mode. XP mode is ultimately Windows XP running in a virtual machine on Windows 7 (or better). You can do the same on other operating systems by installing virtual machine software, like Oracle’s Virtual Box, and setting up a Windows XP virtual machine of your own. Outlook Express will work in there.
You would then need to transfer the data store from wherever it is to the virtual machine that you’ve just created. Once you’ve done so, you can presumably fire up Outlook Express and access that mail.
Once again, I strongly recommend that the first thing you do is move away from Outlook Express. In that virtual machine, install one of the other email programs we’ve been talking about and use that other program to import the email store, converting to the new program’s format. Then move the mail to it’s final destination on your new or upgraded machine.
All of these approaches have downsides. The ability to use multiple identities is usually the big one. Outlook Express supports it, but not all of the alternatives do. It’s something that, to be honest, is often lost. But as much as we might love Outlook Express, the fact is it hasn’t been supported in close to a decade. It has problems; it’s known to lose email, especially as you accumulate more and more.
The bottom line is that it’s time to move on.