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- This Week's Free Computer Tip -

137 - Move your Outlook .pst File For Protection

This tip is for Outlook users, but the concept applies to everyone.

The problem -
The people who write Windows applications have a bad habit of placing your data files in a folder that's handy for them, but awful for you, the user.

Background -
There are two major folders found on the C: drive of every Windows machine. They are titled "Windows" and "Program Files". These folders are the work horses of the Windows operating system. When Windows is installed, it writes all of its thousands of files under the Windows folder. When new applications are installed, most or all of the application files are written under the Program Files folder. This makes sense for the software companies (and you), having all their files where they can be found. The problem is, they frequently forget to do the same favor for you with your data files. Your data files can be (and are) scattered amongst thousands of other files, in all sorts of folder locations. Worse yet, if they are placed under the Windows or Program Files folders, they are likely to be very difficult to back up and easy to overlook whenever restoring from backup is required. Most users don't even know what the data files are named, let alone where they are located. It's a backup nightmare.

This tip talks about one particular data file for users of Outlook - the .pst file. I picked it as the example because of how much cherished data is found in it for most users. How would you like to lose all the old emails you had saved from friends, all your friends and family email addresses, and all the family pictures that were attached to emails, all at once? Well, they are ALL stored in this one file and unless you have it backed up, losing it would be like having a house fire. It would all be gone and some you might never recover.

Where did Microsoft chose to locate this file? You guessed it. They put it about 5 levels deep under the Windows folder. If you ever have to have Windows re-installed on your machine, you are highly likely to lose this very valuable file. Please don't ask how I know this! The Windows folder and all its lower level folders are recreated during the re-install process and if you failed to remember to save .pst file, it is lost! Had you move it to a safer folder (not under Windows or Program Files), there is a good chance of avoiding the problem. If you do your backups faithfully, you're even better off. This is the classic case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

The Solution -
For all applications you care about:

  1. Find out what your data files are named
  2. Locate the files
  3. Move them to where you can easily find them again
  4. Back them up
For Outlook users:
  1. The filename has an extension of ".pst"
  2. The default location is under the major folder called "Windows"
Moving the file is very easy (see below)

Locating the .pst file -
Click on Start, Search, For Files and Folders.... In the box which asks for file/folder name, enter "*.pst" (no quotes) Click on Search. This search will locate all files on your machine which have an extension of .pst. (I recommend that you be sure to let the search finish as you may find more than one .pst file. If you do, go to the main menu bar, click View, Details, and look at the "Date Modified" column. The newest date is the active .pst file and the one you are most interested in.)

Moving the .pst file to a safer location -
(If you know how to "Cut and Paste" the .pst file, just do that to the new location and skip the details here)

  1. You can begin the moving of the file right on the Search screen. Point to the .pst file and RIGHT-click.
  2. Select "Cut".
    (Don't use Copy here. You want the file to be moved, not copied.) >Open Windows Explorer (Windows Key and "E" will do it, or, click on My Computer)
  3. Find or create a new folder to store your .pst file.
    (I created one under My Documents called "Jeff's Email")
  4. Select that folder.
  5. Right click inside that folder and select "Paste".
The .pst file should now paste itself in that folder.

Notifying Outlook where to find the file you just moved -

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. You will see a notice saying that Outlook can't find the .pst file (that you just moved). When you acknowledge this message, it will ask you what file you want to open. On that screen, click the down arrow on the box labeled "Look in:" and navigate to the new location where you pasted the .pst file.
  3. Point to the .pst file in that new location and you are in business
  4. .
Outlook will open and all your email records will appear as before.

You have accomplished two things here. First, you have moved the file from a dangerous place where it was likely to be lost. Second, you have moved it to a place where it is easy to find and to back up. You are a major step closer to securing your email based data.

I will have additional tips upcoming on backing up Outlook files.

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