Q: How Do I Copy Outlook Data to Another Application?

A: For any version of Microsoft Outlook, you can capture the data within a view and then copy and paste to transfer that content to another application. While this might seem trivial, it really isn’t. Try it with another email client like Zimbra Desktop. It isn’t even an option.

Most email applications require some data query followed by an export command, sometimes with output that needs to be further manipulated before it can be used. With Outlook, you can easily manipulate the columns in the main UI to present the data you want to copy.

When Microsoft implemented the vertical reading pane in Outlook 2003, it changed how the main window content was displayed. Outlook 2007 set the vertical reading pane as the default. Because of the limited amount of horizontal screen space, Microsoft compresses the visible presentation by hiding all but the most common columns a user would need. A sample folder of this scenario is shown in Figure 1. When the width of the main UI is expanded, the presentation changes to show the exact columns in the main UI. This is easily done when you drag the right edge of the main window pane until the columns set, or when you remove the reading pane altogether, as shown in Figure 2.

This example contains messages from a public Active Directory email list, but it could represent any folder or filtered folder in your mailbox. You can highlight and copy the content using either right-click and Copy or CTRL-C. Of course, if you want to copy more than is visible on the screen, you can either hold CTRL pressed while you scroll, or use SHIFT-Page-Down to highlight blocks of content, or SHIFT-End to append the rest of the content after the initial selection.

When you copy the content from Outlook, it retains some formatting with OLE, including spacing between the column items. You can see this using a Clipboard content viewer. In Windows XP and Vista, there was a utility called clipbrd.exe found in \windows\system32\. Windows 7 does not have a comparable utility, but there is freeware available that can do this, such as ClipMagic. Figure 3 shows the Clipboard contents. When you paste this content to another application, the destination application may be smart enough to separate the columns by recognizing space between fields. Excel will write data across multiple columns based on that formatting as shown in Figure 4.

In the main Outlook UI, the data displayed in the primary mail pane is a subset of the possible information that can be presented. With the reading pane turned off and the mail data in columns as shown in Figure 2, you can easily control what information is viewed. If you right-click somewhere on the column headings to reveal the context menu, you can then select Field Chooser. Alternatively, in Outlook 2010, you can select View, Add Columns for another version of the same tool. In Figure 5, the Add Columns menu option is identified as number 1 and the Field Chooser menu is number 2. Their functionality is the same.

With the Field Chooser, you can drag and drop individual column headings from the Field Chooser window to the column bar in the order you want to view them; whereas, the Add Columns interface provides the familiar option of selecting one or many column headings and clicking the arrow to add a column heading to the column list. The order of the columns for the Add Column dialog box is controlled by dragging the column heading in the right pane of the window up or down or by selecting a column you want to move and then clicking either the Move Up or Move Down buttons at the bottom as needed. When you click OK at the bottom of the Add Column box, the changes are applied to the Outlook view.

So why is this valuable? The Field Chooser (and Add Column option) has numerous columns that could provide valuable information for reporting or sharing. This applies to other categories in addition to mail. By default the Field Chooser lists the Frequently-Used fields; however, there are many fields or columns available for the different Outlook data types—Mail, Contacts, Appointments, Tasks, and more.

Outlook data can be copied directly from the Outlook interface in table format to be pasted in other applications. This form of data retrieval from Outlook works the same with the list views of Contacts, Calendar, and other Outlook folders. Copying and pasting Outlook data this way makes it easy for users to move data to other applications without being concerned with Import/Export options. This can be used to move specific Outlook data using copy and paste to other solutions for reporting, archiving, querying, or manipulating outside of Microsoft Outlook.

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