Microsoft Outlook: 5 catastrophes and how to fix them

You use Microsoft Outlook to manage your email, yourappointments, your contacts, and your to-do lists. In other words, youuse it to manage your work life. So when this program doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to, you have a nightmare.

I’m here to help relieve you of those waking bad dreams. Following aresolutions to five common but serious Microsoft Outlook problems. I’lltell you what to do if your data set has grown too large andcumbersome. I’ll explain why you seem to be spamming your friends. I’llhelp you check your mail on more than one computer. And I’ll show youhow to back up and restore your Outlookdata, as well as how to make Outlook contacts display the informationyou want to see.

These tips are for Outlook 2007 and 2010, although in theirgeneralities–if not their specifics–they’ll work with earlierversions, too.

Your Outlook Data Suddenly Vanishes
Let’s nip this nightmare in the bud, before it happens.

You keep a lot of information in your Outlook data file–including youremail messages, your contacts, and your appointments. If somethingdestroys or corrupts that file, you’re in trouble. And since Outlookhandles its data files in its own unique way, your regular backup routine may not beprotecting its data. (You do back up regularly, don’t you?)

So you need to make sure that you’re backing up your Outlookdata. But first, you have to find that data.

You can do so in the Account Settings dialog box. To open it in Outlook2007, select Tools, Account Settings. For version 2010, click the Filetab, and then select the Info option in the left pane, followed byAccount Settings, and Account Settings again. (Yes, I know that’sredundant.)

Once you’re in the dialog box, click the Data Files tab. Select yourdata file (probably Outlook.pst), and then click the Open Folder button(version 2007) or the Open File Location button (2010). WindowsExplorer will open to your Outlook data folder.

With Outlook closed and the folder open, copy the contents of thefolder to a safe location, such as an external hard drive. Better yet,make sure that your regular backup routine includes this folder.

When the nightmare hits and you’ve lost your data, here’s how torestore it:

1. Reinstall Outlook and go through the setupwizard. This will create a new but empty data file.

2. Once Outlook is up and running, launch the Import and Export Wizard.In Outlook 2007, select File, Import and Export. In Outlook 2010, clickthe File tab and then the Open option on the left, and choose Import.

3. In the wizard, select Import from another program or file and clickNext.

4. For the file type, for Outlook 2007, select Personal Folder File(.pst). For 2010, choose Outlook Data File (.pst).

5. On the wizard’s next page, click the Browse button and find thebacked-up Outlook folder. Select the appropriate file (probably Outlookor Outlook.pst).

6. As you go through the rest of the wizard, select Personal Folders,make sure Include subfolders is checked, and click Finish to startimporting your backed-up data.

Your Outlook Data Set Is Too Big andCumbersome
If Outlook is slowing down, it’s probably time to shrink yourOutlook.pst data file. By default Outlook 2007 can handle a 20GB datafile, and Outlook 2010 can manage a 50GB one. You can increase thosesize limits–but frankly, you’ll get better performance by decreasingthe size of the actual file.

The previous tip described how to find and open the folder containingthe file. Do so to check its current size, and to see how the sizechanges as you follow the suggestions below.

Start by compacting the file, which removes empty space. In Outlook2007, select File, Data File Management. Select outlook.pst, and thenclick Settings. Click Compact Now. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab,and then select Info in the left pane. Click Account Settings, andAccount Settings again. In the Account Settings dialog box, click theData Files tab. Select the file and click Settings, Compact Now.

If that doesn’t shrink the file sufficiently, try archiving, which moves oldmessages and appointments to another .pst tile (the default isarchive.pst). You first need to reach the AutoArchive dialog box. InOutlook 2007, select Tools, Options. Click the Other tab, and then theAutoArchive button. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab, and thenchoose Options in the left pane. In the Outlook Options dialog box’sleft pane, click Advanced. Click the AutoArchive Settings button.

Once there, you’ll find plenty of options for what to archive.

You can also start archiving now, rather than waiting for the next timeit happens automatically. In Outlook 2007, select File, Archive. In2010, click the File tab and select Info. Click the Cleanup Toolsbutton, then Archive.

The program has other tools for cleaning up email. In Outlook 2007,select Tools, Mailbox Cleanup to find them. In Outlook 2010, click theFile tab and select Info. Click the Cleanup Tools button, then MailboxCleanup.

After you’ve done everything you can to archive and clean up your data,your Outlook.pst file will remain the same size–but it will haveconsiderably more blank space. Compact it again to reap the benefits ofyour cleaning job.

You’re Spamming Your Friends
Your contacts may be receiving unwanted mail that appears to be comingfrom you. Don’t worry: You’re not spamming people while in ahypnotized trance. And neither is your copy of Outlook.

Remember that your copy of Outlook and your email account have no realconnection, other than the fact that you use one to access the other.

In all likelihood, your email account has been hijacked for spammingpurposes. To get it back, try changing your password (and make your newpassword a strong password). If you succeed in changing the password,and if hijacking is the problem, you’ve just solved it.

But if you can’t change your password, the account hasdefinitely been hacked. Contact your email provider about how toreclaim it; Gmail,Hotmail,and Yahooeach outline the steps for reclaiming an account.

A hijacked account isn’t the only possibility, however. Amalware-infected PC with access to your email address may be part of aspam-spewing botnet.

It could even be your computer. To find out, scan your hard drive withone or more security utilities other than your regular antivirusprogram. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware Free, SuperAntiSpyware Free Edition, andthe AVGRescue CD each do a good job.

If your computer isn’t the culprit, then a friend’s PCis–especially if the people receiving “your” spam all know oneanother. Malware can spoof (forge) any ‘To’ address in the outgoingspam, and typically it picks a random address from the infected PC’shard drive. If the friends who are complaining are all part of the samesocial circle, suggest that all of them check their PCs for malware.

Email on Your Office PC Doesn’t TurnUp at Home If you have Outlook installed on two computers, and you try to downloadmail on both of them, you’ll likely to run into problems. The mail youdownload to one copy of Outlook likely won’t be available to downloadto the other.

You have a number of solutions to choose from, but the simplest is tochange the way Outlook accesses your mail. If you use the POP3 protocol (Outlook’s default), Outlook will download your new mail and then delete the messages from your mail provider’s server. As a result, the messages aren’t there anymore for you to download. You could tell Outlook not to delete the mail, but that causes its own problems.

The better solution is to switch to the much smarter IMAP protocol, which synchronizesthe mail on the server with the mail in Outlook. That way, the messageswill remain in sync on every computer you check them with (as well ason your smartphone).

You can’t change the protocol on your existing account; you’ll have tocreate a new one. You can do so in the Account Settings dialog box. Toget there in Outlook 2007, select Tools, Account Settings. In Outlook2010, click the File tab, the Info option in the left pane, AccountSettings, and Account Settings again.

Once there, choose the E-mail tab, and then click the New button. Onthe first page of the resulting wizard, check Manually configure serversettings or additional server types. When you get to the page with allthe other fields, be sure to select IMAP in the Account Type field.Check with your provider for other settings.

This tip works only if your email provider supports IMAP. Check withthe provider to find out.

Those Aren’t the Contact Details YouWant
You check your contacts, but you don’t see the specific information youneed. Sure, you have everyone’s name and phone number, but you can’tsee the city they live in without extra effort.

Here’s how to change the contact fields that Outlook displaysautomatically. The directions differ entirely for Outlook 2007 and 2010.

Outlook 2007
In the left pane’s Contacts section, under Current View, pick the viewof your choice. If you don’t find the perfect view, find the closest towhat you prefer.

Once you’ve selected a view, scroll to the bottom of the list of viewsand click Customize Current View. In the resulting dialog box, clickthe Fields button to select which fields you want–and don’twant–displayed, and in what order. You may find the other buttons inthis dialog box helpful, as well.

Outlook 2010
Click the Ribbon’s View tab, then Change View (the leftmost icon on theRibbon). Select the view that’s closest to what you want.

To make it exactly what you prefer, click View Settings (immediately tothe right of Change View). In the resulting Advanced View Settingsdialog box, click the Columns button (if the button is grayed out, tryclosing the dialog box, returning to Change View, and selecting anotherview). In the resulting Show Columns dialog box, you’ll be able toselect which fields to display, and in what order.

Back in the Advanced View Settings dialog box, you may find some of theother buttons useful, too.

A Final Note
In addition to the previous five nightmares, you may have someconfusion about which Outlook software you’re using. Maybe, forinstance, you’ve heard that you can manage tasks and appointments inOutlook, but you can’t find those features in the program.

This may make you feel a little silly, but the answer to this problemis easy: You’ve probably confused Outlook with another Microsoftprogram, Outlook Express. Outlook, thefocus of this article, comes with Microsoft Office and handlescontacts, email, calendars, and so on. Outlook Express last came withWindows XP, and all it does is email.

If you’re using the right program–and you’re using it correctly–thechallenges of managing your email, your calendar, your contacts, andyour to-do list shouldn’t disturb your sleep. And a good night’s restcan really improve your outlook on life.

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