Read Old Outlook Express Messages When You No Longer Have Outlook Express

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Now that he's moved on to Windows 7, Doug asked how he can access his older messages, originally saved in XP's Outlook Express.

For many years and versions, Windows came with the Outlook Express email program. Microsoft discontinued Outlook Express with Vista, which had its own email program--Windows Mail. Windows 7 lacks a bundled email program, but you can download and install Microsoft's free Windows Live Mail. Many PCs come with it pre-installed.

Outlook Express saved messages in .dbx files, with each file containing the contents of an Outlook Express folder. In other words, all of the messages in your inbox would reside in inbox.dbx. If you created another folder called To Do Later, the messages you saved there would be stored in To Do Later.dbx.

But Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail use a different system. Each message is its own .eml file. Each folder within the program is analogous to a Windows folder, so that every message in the inbox is a .eml file located in the Inbox folder.

With that explanation out the way, let's get on with the advice. I'm assuming here that you've already moved your Outlook Express .dbx files to your new PC, and you know where they are.

You can, at least in theory, import your .dbx files into either Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird. I say "in theory," because neither of them successfully imported the .dbx files I tried to import.

Your luck may be better than mine. The import tools are easy to find in either program.

Or you can try the MiTec Mail Viewer. This free, portable, and very simple little program can read Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and Thunderbird messages (I haven't tested it with Thunderbird files). You just point it to a .dbx file, or a folder filled with .eml files, and it will bring up the contents. If you're looking for something specific, the Viewer can filter on words in the Subject, To, and From fields, as well as the body of the email.

But MiTec has one serious flaw: If you want to open multiple .dbx files (or multiple folders containing .eml files), you have to manually open each one separately. And you can only search through one folder at a time.

If you were in the habit of keeping everything in your Inbox, this shouldn't be a problem. But if you extensively organized your mail, it will soon become annoying.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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