After Hours

10 tips for troubleshooting Outlook problems

When Outlook falters, productivity and vital business communications take a big hit. These troubleshooting measures will help you resolve problems quickly.

Outlook is currently the de facto standard email/calendaring client in the business world. Generally speaking, it works like a champ. But there are times when Outlook goes down in a ball of flames. When that happens, if you don't have a bevy of tricks to pull out of your pocket, you might find yourself in a world of pain.

But troubleshooting Outlook doesn't have to be a nightmare. In fact, you can almost script out the troubleshooting process with these 10 handy tips.

1: Scan PST

Those PST files will inevitably develop errors. When they do, they can prevent Outlook from working properly. When Outlook is starting to fuss, one of the first things I do is run scanpst.exe against each PST file used within Outlook. But be warned: Scan PST can take some time to run. It has to back up your data file, scan for errors, and repair any errors found. If the data file is large, this process can take quite some time. To run Scan PST, you'll need to locate the scanpst.exe executable. (Its location will depend upon the version of Windows being used.)

2: Archive

Although not really a troubleshooting tip per se, there are times when a PST file will grow so large it causes problems with Outlook. Instead of letting that PST continue to get unwieldy, it's best to set up archiving. When the data file has reached the excess of users' allocated space, I always encourage them to archive by year. This method ensures that they will be archiving the largest amount of data to their local directory (thereby clearing up space on the server). This will also shrink the PST and alleviate issues associated with a too-large PST. After this is done, I recommend running Scan PST.

3: Rename OST

If users take advantage of a locally cached data file, sometimes renaming their current OST file is enough to resolve plenty of issues. Just close Outlook, open the folder that houses their data files, make sure you can see extension names, and change the .ost extension to something like .old. The next time Outlook opens, it will rebuild that .ost file and Outlook should be good as new.

4: Delete/rebuild profile

When all else fails (just shy of an uninstall/reinstall), delete the Outlook profile. Now you need to use caution with this. If Outlook is working with a POP account, the current Inbox (and calendars, etc.) will need to be exported as a data file (which can then be reimported after the POP account is re-created). If Outlook is connecting to either an Exchange server or IMAP account, this process is just a matter of deleting the profile and re-adding it. To do this, open the Control Panel, go to Mail | Profiles, and delete the profile.

5: Disable add-ons

The more add-ons that are connected to Outlook, the slower it becomes. If you have any doubt, start Outlook in safe mode (issue the command outlook.exe /safe) and see how much faster (and smoother) Outlook runs. If you find this to be the case, go into the Trust center, disable suspect add-ons, and restart Outlook normally. You'll know when you've found the culprit, as Outlook should run normally. This is a tedious exercise, but one that will generally bear fruit.

6: Disable virus scan

Many antivirus tools have an Outlook connector that scans emails as they come and go from a system. In some cases, this can slow Outlook to a crawl. If you're unsure where an Outlook issue is stemming from, temporarily disable the antivirus Outlook connection to see whether that solves the issue. If it does, you might need to update the antivirus software to fix the problem. Just remember, if you leave that connection broken, Outlook will be vulnerable.

7: Run in safe mode

As I mentioned before, running outlook in safe mode is a good way to troubleshoot. The one caveat is that a number of features will not work. This obviously means that running in safe mode is not a solution for a problem — just a way to help debug it. Sometimes, just the act of running Outlook in safe mode will resolve the problem at hand.

8: Run with resetnav

When you issue the command outlook.exe /resetnavpane, you reset all customizations to Outlook's navigation pane (the left pane, with the folder hierarchy and app buttons). This is necessary when users have done something to the navigation pane (something they don't remember doing) that causes Outlook to malfunction or have problems starting. Note that users will lose any customizations that have made to the navigation pane.

9: Migrate PSTs from the server

I've seen this happen so often. A user will have unusually large PST files (especially archives) housed on a shared (or redirected) drive on a server. Those files are best served from the local drive. If you have more than one PST file having to connect to a remote location, chances are Outlook is going to bog down. Move those archives to the C drive of the local machine to improve performance.

10: Adjust calendar permissions

If someone sends an invitation for others to use his or her calendar, but they can't make or edit appointments, you need to change their permissions. Open the calendar in Outlook, right-click the shared calendar, click Properties, and then go to the Permissions tab. There, you can add users to the calendar and give them specific permissions that will allow them to do anything from reading to owning the calendar.

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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