Microsoft Outlook offers several convenient ways to organize and manage your e-mail. Many TechRepublic members, myself included, configure Outlook to sort incoming mail into various folders and place shortcuts to these folders on the Outlook toolbar for easy access. But what happens to these personal settings when you move to a new computer or need to recover from a system crash?

While a great deal of Outlook data (mail, rules, etc.) is usually stored on a server, your personal settings (folder properties, toolbar settings, and the like) are stored locally. If you move to a new workstation or have to reinstall Outlook, many of these settings are lost. While this isn’t a major problem, it can be a frustrating experience. Imagine having to re-create an Outlook bar with 50 folder shortcuts. But despair no longer. There is an alternative. In this week’s From The Technical Q&A column, a TechRepublic member finds out how to back up custom Outlook settings.

Your Outlook file cabinet
GSimon1 writes, “In Microsoft Outlook 2000, there is the ability to create groups in the Outlook bar and folders that contain Outlook items such as Mail Items, Sent Items, and so forth. I have created new folders and subfolders that contain Mail Items. These folders correspond with the people, companies, and newsletter subscriptions that I receive e-mail from. For example, in the TechRepublic folder, I have subfolders for Windows 95/98, Windows 2000 Server, Windows NT, Windows XP, Microsoft Office Suite, etc…. I’ve placed these folders in the Outlook bar groups for easy retrieval at a later date. The folders mentioned above are placed in a group called TechRepublic. I have many groups; most are named in the format Inbox A-C, Inbox D-J, and so on.”

Figure A
This image is a re-creation of GSimon1’s Outlook bar, which shows how folder shortcuts can be placed for quick access. For this example, I placed the shortcuts below Deleted Items on the Outlook bar.

Obviously, GSimon1 likes to keep an organized Outlook environment. Anyone who receives a lot of e-mail needs such a system. You can quickly find messages and be confident that important e-mails don’t become needles in a haystack. For more tips on organizing Outlook, check out Beth Blakely’s article “Outlook training: Use Rules to get organized fast.”

Lost settings no more
GSimon1 wants to know if these timesaving settings can be saved and transferred if needed. He writes, “In the case of user profile reconstruction or migration, disaster recovery, reinstallation of Outlook, or the installation of Outlook on another machine and the subsequent import of all .PST files, all Outlook bar settings are lost. All of the Mail Item folders are rebuilt during the import process, but the placement of these folders in the groups and the groups themselves are lost.”

GSimon1 then asks, “Is there a way to back up and restore these settings? Where are these settings stored? Is it in a special folder that can be reapplied to a new installation of Outlook?”

Microsoft Knowledge Base to the rescue
Member DKlippert is quick to point to a helpful article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base, Q196492 “How to Back up, Restore, or Move Outlook Data,” which provides the following directions:

“If you have customized settings which you want to replicate on another computer using Outlook, you may wish to include the following files in your backup as well as the Personal Folders file:

  • Outcmd.dat—This file stores toolbar and menu settings.
  • <Profile Name>.fav—This is your Favorites file that includes the settings for the Outlook bar.
  • <Profile Name>.htm—This file stores the HTML AutoSignature.
  • <Profile Name>.rtf—This file stores the Rich Text Format AutoSignature.
  • <Profile Name>.txt—This file stores the Plain Text Format AutoSignature.”

This article also contains detailed instructions about how to back up an Outlook Personal Folders file (.PST file), export and import this personal data, and automate the backup of the .PST file. It includes exporting and importing rules.

Another satisfied customer
Once again, TechRepublic’s Technical Q&A has helped solve another user quandary. GSimon1 promptly expresses his gratitude, responding, “Excellent! This will make computer restores and user migrations so much easier. Thank you.”

As you can see, without the input of IT professionals like you, questions like GSimon1’s might never be answered. Post a comment to this article and tell us about your Outlook experiences. For more tips, discussions, and support, visit the TechRepublic Technical Q&A.