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158 - An Outlook Feature To Avoid

If you are running Outlook 2000, or any version of Outlook older than 2000, this bulletin is for you. If you run a version of Outlook newer than 2000, I would appreciate hearing from you about this topic. If the problems I am about to describe have been corrrected in newer versions, I will include that information in an update to this bulletin.

Outlook 2000 and prior versions all have a feature which sounds good at first glance, but isn't well implimented. That feature is the ability to set up "rules" for processing your incoming emails. If you send and receive a lot of email, you are likely to have felt the need to organize it. This generally involves setting up some sort of folder structure. For example, you might set up a folder called "Friends". Under that folder, you set up individual folders for Jim, Bill, Fran, Judy, John and Frank. This keeps the emails from those people in separate folders, easy to find at a later date. So far, so good.

Here's where rules come into play. You soon learn that you can use a rule to send the incoming email directly to the appropriate individual folder, helping to keep your Inbox somewhat under control. Over time, you build a library of rules such as: "any email sent to me by Jim, move it to the folder called Jim".

So what's the problem?
There are two problems, but you won't realize it until you have used the feature for a while.

First, there is no practical way to sort your rules. You begin finding that you need to regularly locate an old rule, a tedious process when they are all in random order. You can manually sort the list, but the process is done one rule at a time, with no way to drag-and drop the rule. You are reduced to clicking on a "move up" or "move down" button hundreds of times as you move individual items into order. It can take hours to alphabetize a list of say 200 names.

Second (and this is really an unbelievable shortcoming), let's say you want to move your Outlook to a new computer, as I did just this week. You import the old .pst file into your new Outlook. That gives you the prior folder structure, old emails and address book intact. It even saves the modifications you made to the appearance of your folders. Good start. Then, your email begins to arrive, but everything is being delivered to your Inbox. What happened to the rules you used to have set up? It seems that they weren't brought over with the .pst file. No problem, you think. There is a command to "export" rules, and another to "import" them, so you do that. Here's the big disappointment. Doing that brought the rules over BUT, the destinations are all missing! The rules now read, "any email sent to me by Jim, move it to the folder called specified".

So, you go fix the rule for the email you just received from Jim. You change "specified" to Jim. You tell it to exit only to be told by the Rules Wizard that there are other rules that need to be fixed before you can close the window. Outlook wants EVERY rule to be valid before you can exit! You are stuck fixing your 200 rules, or none.

What do I recommend?
I have no work-around for this problem except to recommend that you use rules only if your requirement for them is light. The process of backing them up and restoring them, simply doesn't work. If you do feel the need to use rules on a large scale, just know that some afternoon, you will find yourself redefining each and every rule, one at a time. Be warned!

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