email trouble

Yes, my computing environment at home is Wintel, and I’ve continued to use Microsoft Outlook for email to this point just as a matter of course. Apparently, there’s a known–though not widely publicized–bug in which once your personal folders file (by default the outlook.pst file) reaches 2Gb in size, it immediately and always becomes corrupted; this is an absolute limit. Once that happens, there’s no way to repair the file without suffering a loss of data; you have to use a hex editor or similar tool to truncate a fairly sizable chunk of data from the end of the file, and then run a repair tool on the resulting smaller file. At the end of this process, you might end up with a new folder that does not include all of your original data, and you have no control over what messages or contacts or calendar information might have been irretrievably lost (well, perhaps not irretrievably if you’re willing to spend a few hundred dollars for specialized software, of if you have an Exchange server, but there doesn’t seem to be a reasonably practical or affordable solution for the home user).

Worst of all, in a default installation of Outlook, there’s no warning as the personal folders file is reaching the 2Gb limit. There have been patches that–while unable to allow Outlook to address personal folder files over 2Gb–are supposed to provide this warning feature, and prohibit downloading any new mail or composing any new once the file is approaching the file size limit. I had that patch installed. It didn’t work.

Several years worth of mail messages–carefully organized by theme and/or sender–were in my outlook.pst file that got corrupted two nights ago when it hit the file size limit, about which I wasn’t even aware (or I’d have moved files into multiple pst files in order to avoid the problem). I’ve been working since then to try to recover as much as possible, and I did manage to get all but about 10Mb of the file back, after several attempts that seemed to create usable files but that still became re-corrupted after a few minutes to a few hours; fortunately this didn’t affect any of my current unanswered mail, since now that I’m using IMAP I keep all of that on my mail server, but I have no idea which archived messages from the last four or five years of my life–messages from my late father or love notes from my boyfriend, maybe–are now just digital flotsam on this hard drive.

It’s probably not really that dire; most of this information isn’t important to anyone but me, and even then generally only with sentimental value. I also have an uncorrupted copy of my mail folders on my old computer from just two months ago, so worst-case scenario really is that I’ve only lost some messages I’ve saved since then. And information I keep only on a single computer, with no backup, is as good as toast anyway. Even so, I’m still frustrated that 1) this problem, though acknowledged by Microsoft, isn’t well-publicized, especially given the certainty that it will occur when the file reaches 2Gb and that there’s no way to resolve it without losing data once it does occur, and 2) the patch that was supposed to prevent me from being able to reach 2Gb, and which I diligently applied (I went back and checked my update history), didn’t actually work.

Any recommendations for a better Windows-based email client?

4 thoughts on “email trouble

  1. I’m primarily a webmail user, and until I got to my current job I had never really used Outlook. Which leaves me curious: what on earth goes into a .pst file that could cause it to get up to two gigs in size? Does archived mail still get kept in the .pst? I always assumed that using the archive feature of Outlook would move the mail elsewhere.

  2. One of your questions gets to why I’m even more embarrassed about the fact that the file got too big and became corrupted. Let’s just say that I belong to some Yahoo groups where the messages have particularly large, um, endowments attachments, and I hadn’t cleaned those messages out in a while.

  3. I wouldn’t use Outlook if you paid me. (Well, technically, that’s not true — I use Outlook at work, and they pay me. But I wouldn’t use it anywhere I didn’t have to.) I use Eudora, which is a perfectly fine email client and isn’t trying to be a Personal Information Manager.

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