.psts Revisited

My recent UPDATE column about Personal Folders (.pst) file issues struck a chord. I heard from many of you, and today I'll share some of your comments and questions to try to shed more light on the crucial subject of controlling the size of .pst files and mailboxes.

Pieter Timmerman of the Netherlands teaches his users a simple trick that lets them quickly trim the size of their mailboxes: Go to the Sent Items folder and add the Size property to the folder's view. Click the Size column heading to sort by size, and then remove the 20 largest items. Repeat the procedure for your Inbox, and you probably won't receive mailbox size-limit alerts for a month or two. If you apply this technique to a .pst file, you might want to empty the Deleted Items folder and compact the file to recover the space that the deleted items once occupied.

Jo Goble wrote from the United Kingdom about archiving with the Outlook 2001 Macintosh client. Microsoft didn't include an archive feature in Outlook 2001, but you can use the Tools, Services dialog box to create a new .pst file and then manually move items from the Exchange mailbox to the .pst file.

You can also use a third-party archiving tool to handle the entire Exchange server. If you simply want to clean out old mailbox items without archiving them, the Mailbox Manager tool, which Microsoft introduced in Exchange Server 5.5 Service Pack 3 (SP3) and Exchange 2000 Server SP1, might do the trick.

Mike Walsh wrote from Helsinki, Finland, to share his archiving technique. Instead of waiting for Outlook's automatic archiving, he performs a manual archive at the beginning of each month, moving the previous month's messages from Sent Items and other folders into an archive file for that month. You can use the File, Archive command to archive on demand and specify the name of the .pst file and the date. Mike labels his .pst files by date (e.g., the archive file for December 2001 might be 0112.pst). After the archiving process finishes, Mike uses the File, Open, Personal Folders File command (in Outlook 2002, the Outlook Data File command) to open the new archive. On the Properties dialog box for the top level of the archive folders, he clicks Advanced, then gives the archive a new display name to match the filename. He leaves the new archive in the folder list with the archives from previous months so that he can refer to them as needed. Finally, with the older items removed, he compacts his main .pst file.

Note that archiving on demand, like automatic archiving, depends on the Modified date, which is not necessarily the same as the Sent or Received date. For example, last month I used a compression utility to zip all the attachments in my Sent Items folder and then tried to

archive everything I sent before January 1, 2002. However, some messages that I sent in December didn't archive because the compression tool had modified them in January.

Another reader confessed that all 125 users in his organization were keeping mail in .pst files and not in their Exchange mailboxes. He wondered whether he could limit the size of the .pst files. I told him that the only limit that exists is the 2GB limit that Microsoft built into Outlook and that there are many other reasons not to use .pst files as the main data store in an Exchange environment. For more information, see Why PSTs Are Bad.

I also heard from a company seeking an application that can clean up all the .pst files that have proliferated within its organization (it wants to remove items older than 90 days). I haven't seen any .pst file tool like that, but such a tool would undoubtedly sell a few copies.

Responding to the problem of .pst files that exceed the 2GB limit, Microsoft issued updates—Office XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Office 2000 Service Release 1a (SR1a)—that prevent users from adding items to a .pst file after the file grows to about 1.8GB. This fix prevents the file from hitting the 2GB ceiling, which is when the file becomes corrupted. The Office XP update warns users when their files approach the limit, but the Office 2000 update doesn't. Both updates are available at the Microsoft Office Download Center.

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