An astute techie is always on the lookout for valuable new tools that can make a task easier or deliver more effective results. I recently came across a tool that I thought might fit that category. OutBack Plus, from AJSystems, greatly expands the backup options available for Microsoft Outlook. However, as you’ll see, this handy little app may be best suited for mobile workers or for small businesses that run Outlook without Exchange. Here’s a look at what the tool can do.

What is OutBack Plus?
Microsoft Outlook has emerged as the leading business class e-mail client, with its elaborate messaging, calendaring, and contact features. Many users have become dependent upon it as a daily planner, so a sizable amount of irreplaceable information is at stake. Clearly, this information has a high business value, and if it were irrecoverably lost, many workers would have a major productivity problem.

AJSystems has designed a small, easy-to-use program that allows you to back up components within Outlook. Essentially, anything in a Personal Storage File (.pst) can be backed up, as well as Internet Explorer favorites and cookies. OutBack Plus can be configured to back up these files:

  • OUTLOOK.PST: Contains the primary Outlook folders (Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, etc.)
  • *.PST files: Other personal folders (e.g., Archive.pst)
  • *.OST files: Offline storage files
  • *.OAB files: Offline address books
  • *.OFT files: Outlook forms templates
  • *.PAB file: Personal address books
  • *.FAV: Outlook bar settings
  • OUTCMD.DAT: Global views and menu customizations
  • *.NICK: Nicknames files
  • *.RWZ: Rules wizard files
  • *.VCF: Virtual business card files
  • Signature files: This includes *.RTF, *.HTM, and *.TXT signatures
  • Filtering files of Adult Content Senders and Junk Senders

In addition to these standard files, OutBack Plus will back up two relevant portions of the Windows registry:

  • Internet e-mail accounts: These are settings for the Internet Only mode e-mail accounts within Outlook.
  • Outlook options settings: These are the settings found under the Tools | Options in Outlook. In some cases (such as with Journals), this data is complete only when combined with data contained in the file Outcmd.dat. Accordingly, both should be saved and restored at the same time.

Requirements and installation
OutBack Plus supports Outlook 97, 98, 2000, and 2002. To install it, simply double-click on the installation executable and follow the easy prompts. The process completes in less than a minute. One important note: To successfully install this application, you must have at least Power Users permissions to your local system. In my testing, I attempted to install it with a user that was a member of the local Users group and was unsuccessful.

After zipping through a relatively painless installation, you’re ready to configure this little app. The first time you run it, you have to accept a license agreement. (We’ll cover the cost of licensing in a minute.) Then, from the main menu you can select one of the two big options: Backup or Restore.

Obviously, you’ll want to start by clicking Backup to configure your backups. You will be guided through a brief wizard that lets you choose which files/settings you want to back up. Apparently, OutBack Plus scans your hard drive for the files mentioned above no matter where they are (and this happens quite quickly). You can then select exactly what you want to have backed up (Figure A).

Figure A

Once you have selected your backup choices, click the Next Step button and choose the destination for the backed up data. Options are limited. The only destination you can choose is a folder in the file system; no tape or direct CD is available. Of course, after backing up to the file system, you could manually burn a CD or copy it to a Zip disk, a USB hard drive, or another type of storage. The last step is to actually run your backup, which will take a healthy amount of time depending on what you chose to back up and the size of those selections.

If you’re interested in saving space, you can increase the compression level being used. The default is set to medium, but you can adjust it by going to Options | Backups | Compression Level and choosing the level you desire.

There is no way to schedule a backup to run on its own. The best you can do is to set reminders that will let you know to manually perform the procedures at certain intervals.

How does it work?
If you browse to the directory in which you are storing your backups, you will note that the file is nothing more than a WinZip file. The file extension is .opz, but you can open the file in WinZip. So OutBack Plus is basically automating what you could do on your own—you could manually track down the files and add them to your own Zip files. The convenience factor comes into play, though, because manually navigating through the file structure to get to all your files would be rather laborious. This little app does it fairly quickly and painlessly.

You can download a 15-day, fully functional evaluation copy of OutBack Plus from the AJSystems Web site. The price per copy is $29.95 US. Table A shows the site licensing costs.

# of copies     License fee per user (US$)
3-9 $24.95
10-19 $21.95
20-34 $17.95
35-59 $15.95
60-99 $13.95

End sum
Okay, so I have given you a quick rundown of another interesting little tool. But where does this utility fit into the network? First, I would not recommend using this program as the primary means of backing up Outlook/Exchange data. Clearly, on an enterprise network, a competent network administrator is already going to be backing up important data, and a utility like this is generally redundant and unnecessary. Perhaps it might be useful for an added layer of support, but at the cost of administration, licenses, etc., it is most likely not well suited for an enterprise business network. The one enterprise-level task that this tool might be useful for is migrating Outlook user settings from one machine to another.

On the other hand, this tool could be useful backup solution for telecommuters and mobile users who often switch between online and offline use of Outlook. It might also be useful for small businesses that may be running Outlook without Exchange and that are storing Outlook data in local files rather than on a central server.

I also have a note of warning (especially for enterprise business customers): You should tread cautiously when dealing with small companies like AJSystems. A quick glance at its Web site shows that the company is pretty small and does not have a lot of professional polish. Nor can you find much product documentation about OutBack Plus on the site. Looking though the help files in the program itself is even a bit sketchy, although in fairness, there really isn’t much that you should need help with since the product is pretty straightforward.

OutBack Plus has a great foundation for what could become an excellent resource for backup and recovery, but for now, the best use of this program is limited to telecommuters and mobile workers and small non-Exchange Outlook environments.