How do I synchronize Outlook 2003 between a desktop PC and laptop?
For all its faults, Outlook in its various flavors has many strengths as well.
And then there are those features that are either strengths or faults, depending on who you talk to.
I’ve synchronized Outlook 2003 (and predecessors) between machines much like what I think you’re asking about, and I did it by using one of those slightly controversial features that made what I was doing very easy.
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The “trick”, if you want to call it that, is to note that when using PST files (i.e. you’re not running on an Exchange server) everything except account settings and program options is kept in Outlook’s PST file. That means all your email, all your contacts, all your notes and appointments, everything.
Everything you might want to synchronize.
Now “synchronize” typically implies a two-way update. New messages on each side are copied to the other on a synchronization operation. I’ll be upfront and tell you that this is not that. But if you want to move from computer to computer, as I did taking my work home with me, having everything in a single PST file made it very easy.
I just copied the PST.
This takes a little setting up.
First, you need to configure Outlook on your two machines appropriately. Whatever email accounts you want to access on each needs to be configured on each, and so forth. Then, on each machine, you need to locate your PST file.
After that it’s conceptually simple.
Use Outlook on one machine. Shut it down. Copy the PST file to the other machine, overwriting the PST file that’s already there. Fire up Outlook on the second machine. You now have everything from one machine on the other. When you need to move back, simply reverse the process.
Note that this approach requires you have only one copy of Outlook running at a time, and that your “current” PST has been copied to the machine running that copy.
Essentially as long as your PST travels with you, it continues to remain the single repository of your email (and contacts and calendar, and so on), regardless of which machine you install it on.
And since I know someone will point it out: you certainly could configure Outlook to simply access a PST stored on an external hard drive, and not even have to worry about copying the file. Home, and your current email, is where the hard drive is.
The downsides are twofold: Outlook’s single, proprietary file format, and what happens when you mistakenly download email without first copying over the “current” PST.
Many people consider the PST file a serious drawback of Outlook. It’s a proprietary format and while damaged PSTs are most often recoverable, it’s still possible for the file to become corrupt and lose data. Personally, I think the convenience of the single container outweighs that, and my own experience with PSTs is that Outlook’s pretty good at not screwing them up these days.
If your current email (and the “current” PST) is on machine A, and you move to machine B without copying the PST over, when you download email on B you download it into the “old” PST. You’re now faced with a situation where you have some email in the PST on machine A, and some in the PST on machine B. The only way to deal with this that I’m aware of (and I’ve done this by mistake), is to pick the one with the fewest changes, rename the PST, and then take it to the machine with the “current” PST, use Outlook’s File, Open command to open it along side the current PST. Then you can copy the messages from one to the other manually.
Now, what I haven’t mentioned are any tools that will magically merge two PST files into a single one. Such a tool could be used not only to recover from the last scenario, but in fact to manage the whole synchronization process. I’m sure that readers who have experience with such a tool will post it in the comments, though I can say that it’s not something that’s part of Outlook natively.