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
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 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 up front
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
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
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
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