Web & communication software

Get Rid of 10 Microsoft Outlook Aggravations

Annoyance No. 3

Why can't I find where my $#%^(@"* Outlook data is stored? All of your mail, contacts, attachments, calendar information and so on -- pretty much the whole Outlook data shebang -- is stored in a single .pst file. You often need to know where that file is located if you want to, for example, back it up or move it between machines. But Microsoft has a penchant for changing the .pst location from version to version of Outlook, and you might have a hard time finding it.

In addition to the .pst data file, Outlook uses a variety of other files that do things such as store your personal preferences. You often want to know their locations as well.

How to fix it: Outlook 2007 generally stores its .pst files in different locations depending on whether you're using XP or Vista. In Vista, you'll find it in C: \Users\YourName\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook, where YourName is your Windows user name. In XP, it's usually in C: \Users\YourName\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook.

Of course, there's also a chance that Outlook has stored them in a different location, but at least it's easy to find their location: In Outlook, choose File --> Data File Management. You'll see a screen like the one below. Look for the Personal Folders listing for your Outlook .pst file. Next to it, you'll see its location listed.

As for all the other Outlook files, in Vista, you'll find them in C:\Users\YourName\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook, and in XP they're in C:\Users\YourName\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook.

Annoyance No. 4

Outlook doesn't offer much help with e-mail overload. Outlook's limited searching, filtering and sorting functions can take you only so far if you're looking to better organize your e-mail and improve your productivity. It won't let you view entire message threads, for example, and its search features could use some help.

How to fix it: A lot of Outlook add-ins make big claims about helping with e-mail overload, and I've found one that actually delivers -- and in a big way. The free Xobni (that's inbox spelled backwards) makes it extremely easy to find e-mail, information and contacts. It may be the best Outlook add-in I've ever used.

Xobni appears as a sidebar on Outlook's right-hand side. When you read an e-mail message, the sidebar displays information about the person with whom you're communicating, including a list of all "conversations" you've had with him, a list of all files you've exchanged, the person's phone number and your "social network," which is essentially a list of shared contacts with whom the two of you have exchanged e-mails or been cc'd on.

That means for every e-mail you get, you can see a quick history of all of your previous e-mail exchanges with the sender, a tremendous timesaver when you want to review your communications with someone. Xobni also lets you review all of the e-mails in the sidebar itself by clicking on any of them, and it shows the e-mails as threaded conversations so you can trace their history.

There are also convenient icons in the sidebar screen for sending an e-mail to the person and scheduling a meeting via Outlook's calendar.

And at the top of the screen is great information for data addicts, although it's unclear how useful it actually is. You'll be shown the total number of e-mails you've exchanged with the person, the rank of the person among those you've exchanged e-mails with, and a graph displaying the hours of the day and how many e-mails you typically receive from that person during each of the hours.

In fact, statistics lovers can quickly get lost in this program; there's a Xobni Analytics feature that provides a mind-boggling amount of information about your e-mail use, such as the average amount of time it takes you to respond to people by day, month and week. And that's just the beginning. You can, for example, even see the median time it takes you to respond to individuals, to individuals in a domain ... well, you get the picture.

Don't get this program for the analytics, though. Get it to cut through your Outlook e-mail and information overload.

Annoyance No. 5

Outlook crashes constantly. Sometimes it seems as if Outlook crashes more than it actually runs. Didn't anyone tell Microsoft that the point of an e-mail program is to get e-mail -- not to turn belly-up every other time you open it?

How to fix it: We can't offer fixes for every Outlook crash, but we can address what is most likely the primary cause of problems -- add-ins. Some Outlook add-ins will crash the program on their own, and others will crash Outlook when they're installed in concert with other add-ins. So your best bet for stopping crashes is to first figure out which Outlook add-in or add-ins might be causing the crashes and then delete them.

One good way to find out if add-ins are the culprit of crashes is to first run Outlook in safe mode and see if it crashes. Safe mode disables all add-ins, so if you run it in safe mode and it still crashes, add-ins aren't the cause of your problems. Conversely, if you run it in safe mode and it does crash, then an add-in is likely the cause and you're then free to go through the steps I outline below for finding the culprit.

Run Outlook in safe mode by going to a command prompt, navigating to the directory that contains Outlook.exe (most likely C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\) and typing this command:

Outlook.exe /safe

That runs Outlook without any add-ins. If it doesn't crash, then add-ins are your problem.

Here's how to find exactly which program is the problem. Start by discovering which add-ins you have installed. Select Tools --> Trust Center and click the Add-ins button. You'll see a screen like the one pictured below.

You'll see add-ins organized into three categories: those that are currently active, those that are installed but aren't currently active, and those that are installed but have been disabled by Outlook because they cause the system to crash. (Yes, Outlook does try to fix itself when possible -- it just doesn't always succeed.) To see a description of each add-in, highlight it, and you'll see the description at the bottom of the screen.

Now it's time to find out which add-in or add-ins are causing the crashes. There's no logical way to do this; you'll have to use the process of elimination. At the bottom of the screen, make sure that the COM Add-ins drop-down is selected, then click Go. You'll see a screen like the one pictured below.

Those add-ins that are active have check marks next to them; those without check marks are inactive. Uncheck the box of the add-in that you think might be causing the problem, click OK, and then close and restart Outlook. Outlook will now run, but the add-in will be inactive. If Outlook works properly, you've discovered the cause of your problem.

You can keep running Outlook with the add-in inactive or instead remove it from your system. Some add-ins can be removed using Windows' normal Uninstall routine. Others, though, won't be visible there. To remove those, get back to the screen you used for disabling add-ins. Highlight the add-in you want to remove and click Remove. Be careful before you do this, because you won't get a dialog box asking if you really want to remove it, as you do when you use Windows Uninstall. Click it, and it goes away immediately.

If it's an add-in that you would prefer to keep using, check with the publisher to see if there's a workaround or fix before deleting it.

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