Get Rid of 10 Microsoft Outlook Aggravations

Annoyance No. 6

My .pst file is corrupt. If you've used Outlook long enough, at some point, your .pst file may get corrupted and no longer load. What can you do?

How to fix it: First off, prevention is better than recovery. When .pst files get up to 2GB, they can easily become corrupt, so make sure that your .pst file does not get to be 2GB or larger in size. (See Annoyance No. 3 for details on how to find the location of your .pst file. Then simply open Windows Explorer, navigate to the correct location and click on the file icon to check its size.)

In addition, it's always a good idea to back up .pst files so you can revert to them if any gets corrupt. Now that you know where Outlook 2007 files reside, take advantage of that knowledge by making sure to back up those files regularly.

Now on to fixing the corrupt file. There's a free Microsoft utility called the Inbox Repair Tool that's designed to fix corrupt .pst files.

The file name is Scanpst.exe, and its location seems to vary from machine to machine, but a good place to look is in C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12. Before running the program, back up your damaged .pst file. Then run the program (as you can see at right), choose your .pst file location and tell the program to do its work.

The program should fix the corrupt file. If not, try using it three or four times; sometimes it takes several passes in order to fix the file.

If that doesn't work, you do have one other option. Though we haven't had a chance to test them, there are a variety of programs that claim they do a better job than the Inbox Repair Tool of fixing corrupt files. A Google search will turn up several if you want to go down that path.

Annoyance No. 7

How can I kill duplicate Outlook entries? In Outlook, duplicate e-mails, contacts, tasks, notes and other information have an annoying habit of appearing out of the blue. Sometimes this happens when you import data from an earlier version of Outlook. And other times ... well, I simply don't know why it happens, but it does. You say you'd like to be able to kill duplicates without devoting your life to tracking down every single one and deleting by hand?

How to fix it: Once again, a third party has stepped up to the plate with a solution. Download the free Outlook Duplicate Items Remover, close Outlook, and install the software.

Once you do that, you'll find a new Outlook menu option, ODIR. Click the menu option, select Remove Duplicate Items and, from the screen that appears, select a folder from which you want duplicate items removed. Click Remove Duplicate Items, and it searches for duplicates in the folder. At that point, it copies the duplicated items to a folder, so you have a backup, and removes the duplicates from Outlook.

Annoyance No. 8

Why can't I synchronize Outlook on multiple PCs? If you've got multiple computers from which you want to access e-mail -- a desktop and a laptop, let's say -- this one may well top your all-time annoyance list. You have Outlook on both machines, but there doesn't seem to be a way to keep your mail in sync -- the mail on your laptop doesn't match that on your desktop. What you'd like seems simple: No matter which machine you use, you'd like it to have all of your e-mail and be up to date.

How to fix it: As I've explained, Outlook keeps its data in one big .pst file. So if you want your mail to be up to date on whatever machine you're currently using, you'll have to manually copy that file between machines.

For example, let's say you're using your desktop PC, and you're about to head out on the road with your laptop. You must copy the desktop's .pst file to your laptop before you go. Then you can use Outlook on your laptop as you would normally. When you return, copy the .pst file back from your laptop to your desktop, and your desktop will be up to date. (See Annoyance No. 3 for ways to find the location of your .pst file.)

Although this back-and-forth copying will solve your problem, it's a major-league pain in the hindquarters. And it's prone to error as well -- you may accidentally overwrite a newer .pst file with an older one.

If you're willing to spend a little money, there's a more bulletproof solution: Get a program that will automatically synchronize your Outlook data between PCs. I found two good pieces of software that do the trick.

SynchPST for Outlook and PSTSync both do similar tasks and come with extras, like the ability to copy and synchronize only individual folders instead of entire .pst files. They're both shareware, so you can try them before you buy them. SynchPST costs $39.95 for the Basic version and $69.95 for the Professional version, which has extras such as the ability to schedule automated syncs. PSTSync costs $59.99.

If you use a laptop and a desktop, and have set up your desktop for remote access, then there's an even simpler solution. When you're on the road and need to check your e-mail, make a remote connection to your desktop and run Outlook remotely. That way, you won't need to do any synchronization at all.

Annoyance No. 9

People complain my e-mails have weird characters and spaces in them. Outlook 2007 uses Microsoft Word as its mail editor. Even if you don't have Word installed on your system, Outlook uses a Word .dll, and so Word is what you get when you compose mail. Because of that, when you type an apostrophe, quotation mark or some other special characters, they may show up in other people's e-mail as blank spaces or oddball characters.

How to fix it: The problems are caused by Word's use of so-called smart quotes, which from some points of view aren't so smart. They're not plain-text characters, and so other e-mail readers may interpret them oddly, particularly if the e-mail reader uses plain text instead of HTML.

To fix the problem most easily, in Outlook select Tools --> Options --> Mail Format, and from the drop-down box in the Message format area, choose Plain text and click OK. From now on, Outlook won't use smart quotes. However, it also won't use HTML, either, so you won't be able to use fonts, colors and so on.

If you'd prefer to use HTML text for most messages but use plain text only for some, when you create an e-mail message, select Options from the ribbon at the top of Outlook, and click Plain Text. That way, only that message will be created using plain text; all others will still use HTML.

There is a way to use HTML for your messages and turn off smart quotes at the same time. Select Tools --> Options, click the Mail Format tab, and click the Editor Options button. Click Proofing, select AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat as You Type tab. Uncheck the boxes next to "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes," "Ordinals (1st) with superscript," and "Hypens with dash." Click OK, and keep clicking OK until the dialog boxes go away. You'll be able to compose HTML mail from now on, but without the oddball characters.

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