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How do I... Archive Outlook e-mail without a PST file?

Organizations and employees, of course, are increasingly dependent upon e-mail. From correspondence with customers and clients to strategic communications with colleagues, vendors, suppliers and others, e-mail has become a business critical application. IT Consultant Erik Eckel shows you how to effectively store old e-mail while maintaining accessibility to archived messages.
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By Erik Eckel on
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Organizations and employees, of course, are increasingly dependent upon e-mail. From correspondence with customers and clients to strategic communications with colleagues, vendors, suppliers and others, e-mail has become a business critical application. Information technology departments have responded accordingly. Back-end e-mail servers are often well-hardened, run on dedicated systems and feature intricate remote or offsite backups. But an age-old problem remains: how to effectively store old e-mail while maintaining accessibility to those messages.
Microsoft's answer has been the PST (Personal Storage File) file and an intricate archiving dance. Redmond uses the PST file to store Calendar items, e-mail, Journal entries and Tasks on local Windows workstations. Users, meanwhile, are responsible proper archiving (which requires specifying archive periods, file locations, folder and subfolder locations, etc.).
Thankfully, there's an effective alternative to archiving Outlook e-mail using only PST files.
Just use folders.
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Within My Documents on your desktop, create a folder titled Email.

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Within that Email folder create subfolders for each folder you've created in Outlook (beneath your Inbox).

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Within those subfolders, create monthly or quarterly folders within which you place copies (just drag-and-drop them en masse) of every e-mail message you store within Microsoft Outlook. You can also create folders for Sent Mail and, if you're truly into backing up all your e-mail, Deleted Items as well.
Once you've copied messages to the Email folder, you can delete them from Outlook. Thus you receive an added benefit. Outlook will open and operate more smoothly and consistently, as you'll be working with a much smaller PST file (which will power only active e-mail messages, tasks, contacts and calendar items that haven't been copied to the Email folder and deleted from Outlook). Plus, maintaining a small PST file will keep you out of trouble with the Exchange administrator (who likely implements and maintains strict mailbox size limits).
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Whenever you need to revisit a specific e-mail message or (as is increasingly the case for many) a corresponding attachment, all you need to do is locate the proper folder, retrieve your e-mail, and you're done. There's no need to complete cumbersome import/export processes (that also require numerous other unnecessary e-mail messages and attachments be recovered).
Best of all, you don't even need to remember in which folder you placed an e-mail message. As mentioned previously, the rise of popular desktop search utilities (including the Windows Desktop Search engine built into the new Windows Vista operating system) makes easy work of locating an old e-mail message and/or attachment.
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Within each Outlook Inbox subfolder, create monthly or quarterly folders to ease how often you need to manually copy e-mail. Breaking messages into dated folders also greatly simplifies recovering specific e-mail messages (although desktop search engines typically fulfill that function now).
Individual e-mail messages (with any corresponding attachments) are then placed directly within these folders.
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When employing the folder system to archive Outlook e-mail without a PST file, there's one item you need to watch. When you copy an e-mail message from Outlook to another folder on your hard drive, Windows creates the file using the message's Subject Line as the filename (adding the .MSG file extension). If you copy multiple e-mail messages at once that possess the same Subject Line, Windows simply appends numerals within parentheses to the end of the identical filenames, thereby creating unique filenames for each e-mail message. It works great.
If, however, you later add an e-mail message to a Windows folder that already holds an e-mail message possessing an identical Subject Line, Windows will present the Confirm File Replace dialog box.
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In the past, just copying e-mail messages to document folders didn't work well, as trying to locate a single e-mail message within thousands of others proved frustrating. With the rise of Google Desktop Search, Windows Desktop Search and Yahoo Desktop Search, not too mention the fact that Windows Desktop Search is built into Windows Vista by default, locating individual e-mail messages usually requires only that you type a keyword or two within ever-present search boxes.

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You can quickly drill down within e-mail search results using Google Desktop Search. Better yet, Google's search provides you with a preview of each message. To access the messages themselves, you need only click the provided hotlink.

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Using Google Desktop Search, you can open e-mail messages directly within Internet Explorer, should you wish.

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Using variously available desktop search tools, you can elect to read e-mail message contents within Internet Explorer or open the actual e-mail message (and corresponding attachments) itself.

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