Say Goodbye to Outlook Personal Folders? Here Come “Personal Archives”

Mar 8, 2011

If you are using Outlook Exchange and filing mail locally to Personal Folders (just about everyone in a medium to large company is), then read on. A new option for you called Personal Archives is here. With Personal Archives (new to Exchange Server 2010), Microsoft now gives you a cloud-based archiving choice that is easier to use, safer, and more accessible when mobile. And, by the way, you just may “have” to use it in the not-to-distant future.

A little background first. Many of you, if you use Windows Outlook, use Personal Folders to file mail when cleaning your Inbox. These folders are stored locally in something called the .pst file—it helps you get mail off the overloaded Exchange server. Also, if you use AutoArchive, Outlook stores the archived mail locally in a .pst file too. By the way, Appendix A of my Outlook book provides a full explanation of Personal Folders and the .pst file including when and how to use them. And Appendix B teaches you how to use a .pst file for archiving.

Why Personal Folders (.pst files) Are a Problem

Using Personal Folders (.pst files) with an Exchange Server to store excess mail locally can work well; many of us have been doing that successfully for years. However, there are also a ton of problems with doing that. Some are problems for you, and some are problems for your IT department.

The problems for you are these:

  • The .pst files are messy to manage especially when they fill up or when you change computers; they are easy to lose track of and then can be hard to reconnect with.
  • They sometimes become corrupted. And if your hard drive goes down you may lose mail.
  • For these reasons, they need special backup attention.
  • Perhaps the biggest issue: access to them is usually restricted to your one local computer. So if you jump on a secondary laptop, tablet, or smartphone—or if you use the browser version of Outlook (OWA)—you usually cannot see any mail stored in your .pst file.

The problems with .pst files for your IT department are these:

  • For the reasons above, they are messy to support and hard to backup.
  • They are a real headache if your organization is involved in a legal case and related old mail needs to be located.
  • Mail retention policies are difficult to support on .pst files.

The New Personal Archives Approach

So to solve these problems, Microsoft introduced, in Exchange Server 2010, the new Personal Archives capability. It’s not very well known and, even if your company has the new Exchange 2010 server, I doubt they have activated that feature yet. But as it rolls out it’s going to change the way we all archive mail.

What is it? The Personal Archives feature allows Exchange Administrators to create additional server-based storage areas that users can drag excess mail to (or automatically archive to). To the Outlook user, they look like another set of mailbox folders in the Navigation Pane on the left side of the Outlook window. And they come with powerful archive tools you can set up and use to keep your main mailbox clean (replacing AutoArchive).

Why do this instead of just storing mail in other folders on your main Exchange account? Well, your IT department can set up these storage areas on separate, low-cost (but slower) hard drives. The idea is to get your older mail off the main Exchange servers where large mailboxes can bog down performance and get costly. Your mail administrators are much more likely to give you lots of extra space in Personal Archives than in your main mailbox. And since you don’t access older mail there as often, any slower speed or drop in convenience is not really an issue.

Advantages of Personal Archives

All this provides the following advantages over .pst files:

  • Since they are server-based, Personal Archives are (potentially) visible to all devices that access your mail, even remotely. So if you use a secondary computer or laptop while on the road, you can now access your older archived mail.
  • In theory you could also travel with a tablet, say, and still access your old archived mail (but there are limits; more on that below).
  • With Personal Archives come new automatic archiving tools; they are easier to use and more robust than the older AutoArchive. And they can be integrated into your company’s formal mail retention policy, solving lots of corporate legal issues.
  • You can copy mail off your old .pst files into Personal Archives and so retire your .pst files quickly.
  • Backup is easily arranged by your IT staff; so no more lost .pst mail.
  • Mail there is automatically indexed with other mail for rapid searches (sometimes .pst files do not get included in search indexes, unless you make a point of doing so).
  • With the increasing popularity and need for cloud computing, it just makes sense that archived mail should be in the cloud as well; this is one way to enable that.

The Demise of the .pst File?

So Personal Archives are a huge step forward and something your IT Exchange Server staff should be excited about. And you should be excited too—there are a number of advantages to you as an Outlook user.

But consider this. Given the advantages to your IT department, as Personal Archives roll out, I can see the day when Exchange administrators may actually forbid you using the older .pst files, due to their problems. For legal reasons alone .pst files are dangerous; and they are very hard to support. So yes, I can see .pst files being phased out by IT staff. It may be a while, yet I think that will happen.

But that said, .pst files are still the only way Internet POP mail users can store mail inside Outlook. And many Exchange users may insist on access to older.pst mail for a while, especially if their old storage exceeds their Personal Archives allocation. So I predict the Outlook software will not be dropping support of .pst files in the near future.

As an Outlook User, Don’t get Too Excited about Using Personal Archives Quite Yet

With the remote access features of Personal Archives, you may be excited about using them; but don’t get too excited yet. Why?

First, this is a totally new feature, and IT departments are going to be slow to adopt it; few IT staff members know how to use it yet or have turned it on.

Next, while this is cloud stored e-mail and so a natural for mobile devices like tablets, note you can’t access that mail with the mail app on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device; that’s because ActiveSync cannot see it. Hopefully that will change in the future. A full Windows Tablet PC will work fine though since it can run a full copy of Outlook.

Also, it does not yet work on the new Mac version of Outlook, and it will never work with Outlook 2003 or older versions of Outlook. Right now the only client software enabled to “see” Personal Archives mail is a full client of Outlook 2007 and 2010, and Outlook Web App (OWA, the browser version of Outlook).

Since OWA can access this mail, that could be one way to access Personal Archives mail on an iPad or Android tablet or on a Mac or PC with an older Outlook version. The disadvantage for all these, however, is that OWA runs separately from your main mail applications on those devices; you’ll need to launch your browser for those searches.

And the final small gotcha is this: even in a laptop with a full copy of Outlook, you cannot access these files if you are in offline mode—these e-mails are not cached locally—meaning you need a live connection. So if you have your laptop open on a plane or anywhere else you lack network access, you will be cut off from these archived items in Outlook.

Still, a Big Step Forward

Still, Personal Archives will be a big step forward once they are in widespread use. They are safer than .pst files, more convenient, and they offer much better mobile access options. If your organization is using Exchange Server 2010 (SP1), you should encourage your IT staff to activate Personal Archives.

And Personal Archives work well with the MYN system of storing all mail in a single Processed Mail folder. Just create a second Processed Mail folder on the Personal Archives storage space, and archive your older mail there; best is to set up a rule to do it automatically. This corresponds to configuration C in Appendix A of my Outlook book and it replaces the AutoArchive instructions in Appendix B.

See this Microsoft article for more detailed information about Personal Archives:

Comment below what you think of this new feature. Also tell me if your company is using these and, if so, how it’s going.

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5 Responses to Say Goodbye to Outlook Personal Folders? Here Come “Personal Archives”

  1. georges says:

    Good piece of info, thanks for sharing, looking forward to see it available on MAC…

  2. jgalt says:

    Thank you for the good description.
    I often work with groups where we have “how did we do it before and how can we make it better” type discussions. I have 2 large .pst files that I keep to research as needed. (2.8G and 3.2G). Some of those emails go back a decade. My Corp. policy is to delete mail from the Exchange account after 3 months. How can I keep and use these files?
    As to the cloud is safer thing I agree somewhat as I know they will be lost with a total HD fail but I still want them if possible. I have the files saved to two different areas so hopefully one of those sectors would be recoverable. Even with having duplicate .pst files my HD is still 88% empty.

  3. Fabio says:

    Hi, I don’t use an exchange server. I use a POP system to get emails from my service provider using Outlook on my laptop. This means that I have .PST files for all emails, including archives. I also use a tablet and would like to be able to use the Outlook app on it to access all my .PST files (normally created by the Outlook on my laptop) that reside on OneDrive. Do you know if this is possible? Thanks in advance.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      I’ve never tried it. I tried it with DropBox years ago and it led to a lot of issues because the .PST got changed so often and DropBox got confused. DropBox made a whole bunch of backups of it every time it changed and since the file is so big, it took a lot of space–I filled my limit quickly. I bet OneDrive may have similar issues. In general, I don’t think shared drives are a good solution here.
      See this link:
      You know, you can get an Exchange account for about $4 a month. Solves a lot of issues and gives you a ton of tools. Of course, you may have to give up your email address and get a new address, not an easy decision. Michael

  4. Outlook Master says:

    hello goodbye in folder. why. is that hæ

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