Wednesday, April 23, 2008

MVP Summit: Outlook Issues

One of the great things about the MVP Summit is the discussions with MVPs outside of your core group. In my case I had the opportunity to talk with someone who is an Outlook MVP about some of my Outlook headaches. She is pointing me to a tool to help me migrate my PST file to the Outlook 2007 format. Christof Wollenhaupt told me to expect my file size to double because the file is upgraded to support Unicode and this takes twice the bytes. He also told me I should be able to see the Russian spam easier. Cool. This is another thing I was wondering about. When I read Web Mail on my Windows Mobile phone I see the Russian character set, but in Outlook it looks like garbage text.

The other thing I learned is an explanation for something that has bugged me about Outlook, but not something that has affected performance or organization of the PST and the 2GB limit. Each time I do a send/receive pass I see the message "Sending Message 12 of 12" even when I do not have any messages in my Outbox. I have always thought this was a bunch of return receipts clogged in my Outbox, but I have guessed wrong. This is a bug. It has a direct correlation to the number of email accounts I have set up in Outlook. If I add a new account it would say "Sending Message 13 of 13". This must be a seriously pain in the neck bug to figure out, or simply not a high priority, because I know the bug has existed as far back as Outlook 2003.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Why I stick with Outlook

Over the last 10 months I have been complaining loudly about Outlook and how it has frustrated me because of a few issues with performance. Several of my friends have recommended to me to use Web mail to handle my email. Centrally processed, backed up on a remote server, and accessible from anywhere in the world. All valid and tempting reasons for sure, but there are several reasons why I won't ever use Web mail:

1) All the email resides on a server and the server has limits of 10MB for my host. I can probably pay to get this bumped to a higher limit, but I have 10 years of historical emails in Outlook and my main PST file and archives totally more than 3.0GB.

2) I don't control my own data. All my contacts, all my folders, all my emails. If the server is not backed up correctly it could all get deleted. Worse yet, what happens when I am not happy about the hosting provider, how would this information get moved to a new hosting company and server?

3) In general Web mail stinks. It is definitely not as rich as the Outlook interface and not as powerful with respect to rules to file email to folders. I do use Web mail when I am away from my computer or don't have wireless Internet access except through my phone. Handling email via the phone is a task, but usable when I have too (like sitting in an airport, or stuck in a traction machine at the chiropractor, or waiting between appointments).

I don't always read Robert Scoble these days as I find most of what he is talking about irrelevant to me, but occasionally I will scan his post topics to see if something interesting comes up. Some of his recent posts have been quite interesting about how he broke the terms of one of the social networking services and had everything erased from his account and was locked out. Photos, video, and things other people posted. Almost as if it came right out of a science fiction movie. Scary!

How much data is out there on the Web that is out of the control of the users? I am guessing a lot. Granted, having access to the information from any computer is cool and productive. My wife is the perfect example: she does not really have her own computer. So she rotates to any computer in the house that is open to check her email. I occasionally back up her contact list to CSV format and download a copy to the server. She would be unhappy if her email evaporated one day, but life would go on for the most part. Nothing mission critical.

There is no way in heck I would allow other companies to control my data. Not my business data, and not my personal data. This is exactly why I use a program on my computer to control my email, and why I have a word processor and spreadsheet program locally. I am not a future customer of Google Apps.

Even though my blog is handled through Blogger, all my posts are posted to my hosted Web site, and yes, I do back those up so they do not evaporate one day.

I will not rely on online backup services to protect my backups. I handle them myself. If there is anyone to blame for losing something, all I have to do is look in the mirror.

Data is too important to trust to someone else. I do not want to be the victim of erasure like Robert Scoble.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Outlook 2007 SP1

My ongoing battles with Outlook have eased a little since installing Office 2007 SP1 on New Year's Day, but it is still slower at getting POP3 email than Outlook 2003. So I guess a small hurray is in order.

I was hoping for dramatic improvements since reading some of the fixes listed for the SP1 update. At least the "freeze" I experience when getting email is minimal after the update. I can scroll my list of folders with very little interference and I have only experience my typing lock up a couple of times for a couple of seconds when composing an email when a download pass is in process. The download of the email is faster, but not as fast as 2003. At least I don't get the 30-60 second lockups, and the first pass of email in the morning can happen in a couple of minutes instead of the normal 15-20 minutes.

I am looking forward to testing this out on my Vista machine to see if the performance is any better. The other good news is I have not experienced any new bugs. At least so far. {g}

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Microsoft Outlook: Looking for experience/advice

It is well documented that my struggles with Outlook 2007 are not fun (maybe humorous to the readers, but not fun to me). Today I wasted four hours struggling with Outlook to have room in the PST file to move mail items between folders, and send mail. I have hit the 2GB limit.

What I have learned:
1) Outlook PST files in the 97-2002 format have similar limits to the VFP DBF.
2) Outlook Archiving works when it is schedule, and can be run manually via the File menu.
3) Compacting the PST file only works when it can compact 16KB of material from the file (at least this is what is documented).
4) Outloook 2003 PST format will store more than 2GBs.

I looked up the conversion process to learn it is manual, very manual. As in create a new PST file and then manually run the import process via the Import/Export process.

So before I go off and waste more time, I am asking you if you have run through this and got the same content out on the other side of the import. I have heard from others who were migrating from Outlook Express to Outlook 2007 that they did not have much success and needed to export first, then import.

My goal here is to get all my data across without losing anything. I have dozens of mail folders and more than a thousand contacts, lots of calendar items, and tons of tasks and notes. I rely heavily on this information.

I am not interested in hearing:
  1. Move to Thunderbird (it does not do everything Outlook does, least of all synching contacts to my Windows Mobile phone).
  2. Move to Web mail (get real, I am not always connected to the Internet, and I use Outlook for more than just email).
I also have lots of backups, but what I don't have is a lot of time to deal with this. I need something to go smoothly. Your experience is really appreciated. Thanks in advance.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Outlook 2007 Woes - getting better...

Fellow DAFUGger and friend Paul Mrozowski sent me a link to a Microsoft KB article (933493) yesterday noting Microsoft made a hotfix to Outlook 2007. The KB article notes:
This update fixes a problem in which a calendar item that is marked as private is opened if it is found by using the Search Desktop feature. The update also fixes performance issues that occur when you work with items in a large .pst file or .ost file.
The performance is better and my email seems to be delivered faster. The freeze up during the send/receive is less frequent, but not fixed completely. For instance, during the day yesterday I did not notice when Outlook was doing an email pass. Granted, the email traffic on Sunday is less than a weekday. This morning I started Outlook and the initial pass had 75 emails to download. I could scroll my folder list part of the time and I could switch folders with some hesitation. Way better than the initial release, but still not as good as Outlook 2003.

Thanks for finding and passing this along Paul. Life is better.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Outlook 2007 Frustrations - Follow up one

Back a couple weeks ago I mentioned several Outlook 2007 frustrations on my blog. I am making some progress on a couple of issues I noted.

1) "The last frustration is the themed appearance of the title bar.'

I found buried in the Outlook Options the ability to select Blue, Silver, or Black as my "Outlook Theme." You can find this under the Tools | Options dialog box, pick the Mail Format page, Editor Options button (near the bottom of this page). On the Editor Options dialog box you will see the Color scheme option on the "Popular" tab.

While I wish they would let me turn this off and just use the regular Windows Theme I have selected, at least the black theme is closer to the theme I have in Windows and is easier for me to see the Windows inside of Outlook. Unfortunately this is the only one I have resolution on and it is the least of the problems I have with Outlook 2007.

2) "The first is the appearance of Outlook locking up during a Send/Receive pass."

I learned at the MVP Summit that this is a common problem and one that has solutions. Some folks have mentioned the size of PST files over 2GB are an issue. Mine is still floating around 1.5GB and has been at this size for the last couple of years. All the solutions I have been pointed to and read about give solutions that appear to work only on Vista. I can tell you Vista is not in my near future for my primary development machine so I have to find a solution for Windows XP. I have posted this problem on a couple of message boards I have access to and hope the community will jump in and make this easy.

3) I half jokingly mentioned: "I am not sure Outlook and my Treo are ever going to synchronize. {g}"

So far so good. Once I corrected some of the inadvertent time changes all is working on both Outlook and my Treo. No missed appointments so far.

Thanks to those who have offered help and condolences.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Outlook 2007 frustrations

Out of all the changes to Microsoft Office 2007, the big hit or the app most important to me is Outlook. I spend probably too much time in Outlook, so any improvements would be great. Unfortunately I have hit a few "features" that are real frustrating.

The first is the appearance of Outlook locking up during a Send/Receive pass. I have a dozen email addresses designed to get email to Outlook. All of them are POP3. When I used Outlook 2003 I would never even know a pass was in process unless the desktop alerts popped up. I could interactively use Outlook to get contact information, manage tasks, etc. while the pass was in process. Outlook 2007 is completely different. I cannot do anything until the pass is more than 50% complete. This is a huge frustration because I really live in Outlook.

The second frustration is how Microsoft changed the email flags. There are colorized email flags and there are contact categories, and calendar labels in Outlook 2003 and earlier. Now there are colorized categories, and flags represent due dates. Previously I set up email flags to mean things (red - hotlist, blue - developer tools, orange - home, and so on). I set up a couple of Search folders in my favorites list so I could easily track these things. Now all my flags are categories (which is okay, but I have to reset them to something meaningful), and my red flags have become due today items.

I also colorize my calendar items with the 2003 labels. I set up a handful of colors to mean different things. This really made finding events in the calendar simple and allowed me to balance my work and home life. Now the colors are tied to categories. So my blue developer tools color for email conflicts with my blue White Light Computing color in the calendar. Outlook 2007 sees the colors as one category. What a pain in the back end.

It will take some time (which I have very little of this month) to re-categorize all my emails, tasks, and calendar items. Along with the Daylight Savings Time correction, I am not sure Outlook and my Treo are ever going to synchronize. {g}

The last frustration is the themed appearance of the title bar. It does not follow the normal Windows title bar colors. To me it is hard to determine visually which window is active and which windows are not. In particular the problem is accentuated when I have an email window open on top of the main Outlook window. I am sure the usability studies tested this out, but I find it extremely frustrating when I accidentally click on the menu of the main window when I want to work with the email window. This is a time waster. I have not seen any settings in the Options dialog box, but I might have overlooked the setting.

I am hoping to talk to someone at Microsoft next week while I am in Redmond for the almost- annual MVP Summit to see if there is a fix in the works for the send/receive pass lock-up and how I can easily work around my flags/categories issue.

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