Outlook Express Troubleshooting

Outlook Express (OE), which is bundled with the Windows operating system, is probably the email client most commonly used by the average home PC user. Here are some tips on how OE works and how to use it better.


How Outlook Express stores mail

A peculiarity of OE that many are not aware of is the proprietary way that email is stored. OE is organized with folders such as “Inbox”, “Outbox”, “Sent”, and “Deleted”. Rather than store individual messages as separate files, OE stores the contents of each of these folders in one proprietary binary file with the extension DBX. Thus there is a file Inbox.dbx, a file Outbox.dbx, a file Sent.dbx, and so forth. These files cannot be read by simply clicking on them. All of these files are kept in a hidden folder called “Outlook Express” that is buried deep down in the Documents and Settings folder with a very long and arcane path. Each user account has its own folder. Also, if you use more than one identity, each identity will have its own folder. Identities are assigned a long hexadecimal name called a GUID or Globally Unique Identifier. Here is an example of a path to an email store folder:

C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{ACEF249B-0C16-491C-B19E-347F8295C81C}\Microsoft\Outlook Express

A more convenient place for Outlook Express mail

It is possible to move the store folder to a much simpler path. This makes copying or backing up the email files much easier. The easiest way to find where your Outlook Express mail is currently stored is to open Outlook Express, go to the Tools-Options menu and click the “Maintenance” tab. There will be a button “Store Folder”. If you click that, a dialog box “Store Location” will open. It will list where your mail is currently being kept. Use the “Change” button to move the store folder for mail to a more accessible location. Choose a new location by typing in the box or use the Browse function.


How to add special characters to email

Did you ever want to put a special character like the cent sign (¢) or the British pound sign (£) into an email? Or use the correct symbols for Spanish or other languages? Regular users of word processing programs like Microsoft Word probably already know how to do this but many average PC users are not aware that two easy methods of inserting special characters are readily available. The first and more comprehensive way is to use the Windows accessory called Windows Character Map. On most XP machines this can be found either in All Programs-Accessories-System Tools or in All Programs-Accessories.

Another method makes use of the Numeric Keypad. That is the section on the right of many keyboards that is ignored by a lot of PC users. It actually has some useful functions and here is one of them. First, make sure the “Num Lock’ light is on. This function is toggled by the “Num Lock” key. With Num Lock on, you can enter special characters into Word documents, Outlook Express messages, and other documents by holding down the Alt key and entering a number code for a variety of special characters, and then releasing the Alt key. For example, to enter the cent sign (¢) hold down the Alt key, enter the numbers 0162 into the Numeric Keyboard, and then release the Alt key.

Combining and archiving emails in Outlook Express

If you ever want to archive a collection of emails, you can make use of a feature in OE for combining a bunch of emails into one file. The feature was originally intended for combining emails or newsgroup messages that were sent in encoded pieces (necessary for big files back in the days of narrow bandwidth) but it works for regular emails as long as they don’t contain graphics.

Select the emails to be combined by using either the Shift or Ctrl keys and open the OE menu “Message”. Choose “Combine and Decode” from the menu. A dialog box called “Order for decoding” will appear, listing all the messages. Don’t let the term “decoding” put you off. If you have some reason for doing so, you can change the order in which the different messages are combined but normally they will be in whatever order you use in your mailbox. Mine are chronological and I just leave them that way. When you are ready to combine the messages, click the button “OK”. The combined file will then be displayed in an OE window. Go to the “File” menu, click “Save as” and put the file wherever on your computer you want to keep it with an appropriate file name. The default format is the OE email format with extension “eml” but you can also choose a text format if your emails are pure text. The advantage of the eml format is that it preserves any hyperlinks in the original messages. Note that all the original messages are not affected and will still be in their original form and location.

I also use this method for transferring a bunch of messages from one computer to another. It is often easier than messing with the binary DBX files where OE messages are stored.

More on archiving or transferring email

The method given above works nicely as long as no message contains a picture. Hypertext links are OK but mail with embedded pictures doesn’t work. Either the combination process stops with the first email or the combined file ends up displaying the underlying HTML code instead.

However, there is another way to combine emails that I sometimes use to transfer mail from one computer to another or to archive a bunch of email in one file. This one works fine with graphics. Select the emails you are interested in and then click the “Forward” button. All the messages will be attached in a single new message. You do not have to actually forward the new message with all the attachments but can save it anywhere on your computer that you like. I do not know what limit OE itself might place on the number of attachments but I have attached as many as 30 emails to a single message. If you do wish to forward a combined message, keep in mind that not all ISPs may allow multiple attachments. Also, ISPs usually limit the size of an email, with 10 MB being a common number.

When OE pictures don’t send properly

I have had it happen to me that I send out email with a picture in it only to find that the picture didn’t accompany the email. This happens if a particular setting in OE gets accidentally changed. Instead of a picture being embedded in OE, only a reference to the picture is placed in the message. The message looks fine when viewed locally becuse the reference loads the graphics file. On somebody else’s computer, there is no file to load so they get a red X. The setting is reached by going to the OE menu Tools-Options and clicking the “Send” tab. In the dialog box that opens, click the button “HTML Settings” that is in the section “Mail Sending Format”. The dialog shown below will open. Make sure a check is by ” Send pictures with messages”. Then Click “OK” and “OK’ again.