I now have 5 “Message cannot be displayed” “Windows Mail encountered
an unexpected problem while displaying this message” and these messages
cannot be deleted. The 3 in my “Drafts” and 1 in my “Inbox” do not stop
functioning but the 1 in my “Outbox” stops me from sending mail. Can
you help me?
Long time readers will know that my opinion of Outlook Express, and
its Vista equivalent, Windows Mail, is not very high. That’s based
mostly on problem reports I see every day.
The two programs are nearly identical, but in this case there’s a
difference that, if you’re lucky, might serve you very well.
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One of the problems I see happening repeatedly with Outlook Express
relates to it’s “data store”, the files and folders that make up the
database in which it keeps your email. It’s apparently fragile, and
Windows Mail, while clearly a successor to Outlook Express in almost
every other way, uses a slightly different storage mechanism. Rather
than single files containing all messages in a folder, each folder is
… well, a folder on disk. And each message is a single file.
Seems simple, right? Well, it’s not really, since Windows Mail still
keeps a separate index of your messages in a separate, proprietary
file. But, if the problem is with the message body, and not Window’s
Mail’s index, we may be able to help with the problem you’re
facing. This may not work, but it’s something to try.
and not Window’s Mail’s index, we may be able to help …”
In Windows Mail, we’ll locate the store folder this way:
Click on the Tools menu
Click on the Options… menu item
Click on the Advanced tab
Click on the Maintenance… button
Click on the Store Folder… button
After all that clicking, you should see a dialog box much like this
Close Windows Mail, and open Windows Explorer and navigate to that
folder. You should see something similar to this:
If you double click on Local Folders, you should
now see folders for each of your top level mail folders like
Inbox, Outbox and the like.
If you double click on Outbox, you’ll likely see at
least one, perhaps more, “.eml” files. These are messages waiting to be
sent. If you don’t mind losing them all, then just delete them.
If you need to actually save them or at least make an intelligent
decision about which to delete, you can open them in Notepad to examine
the message that each contains. Based on what you find, you can decide
what to delete.
Now, unfortunately, we’re not done. If you now open Windows Mail
again, you might see that the messages still appear in the folder from
which you think you deleted them. That’s because of the separate index
of all the messages that I mentioned earlier. However, if the
problem is with the message body itself, you may now be able to
delete the message in Windows Mail, whereas before you might not have
been able to.
And if you can, that may clear up the other problem(s) you may be
having. Perhaps you’ll be able to send again.
Now, if the problem is with Windows Mail’s index, things get
I’m not aware of a do-it-yourself solution, like we attempted above.
There are recovery tools out there, most of which claim to work with
Outlook Express, but some may now also work with Windows Mail. I can’t
recommend, or even suggest one, since I’ve never used one. I’m very
skeptical of most, since each time I post an article on the topic, the
companies feel the need to spam the comments with obvious
advertisements for their products. However, if readers have honest
recommendations for tools that are worth investigating, particularly
tools that work well with Vista’s Windows Mail, I’d love to see
My solution? As I’ve mentioned before: Thunderbird.
It doesn’t actually solve your current problem, but it avoids its
recurrence. Thunderbird data stores are plain text files (“mbox”
format, for those who care), and the indexes Thunderbird keeps can be
rebuilt on demand by simply compacting, or by deleting the existing
ones (“.msf” files).