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July-September 2006

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Outlook Express Deleted Messages
Central Coast Computer Club
Santa Maria, California
Systems S.I.G.
by Dick Trissel

The question came up at the May S.I.G. on how to completely delete messages in Outlook Express. The procedure is slightly different depending on the version of Outlook Express, because Outlook Express 6 (Windows XP) is so much different than Outlook Express 5 (Windows 98).

Basically, when you delete a message, it goes into the Deleted Folder where it can still be read with Outlook Express. When you delete a message in the Deleted Folder, it can no longer be read with Outlook Express, but it is still readable if you know how and where, and it still takes up disk space. If you Compact the Deleted Folder (or any Outlook Express folder), that space is now available to the operating system and will eventually get written over.

Windows XP

The following is a quote from the book Windows XP Inside/Out: Maintaining Outlook Express In Windows XP

If you use Outlook Express regularly for a period of months or years, you will undoubtedly accumulate a large store of messages. Eventually, the size of your message store will begin to slow the program down. To keep it performing nimbly, you need to clean out your folders periodically.

When you delete messages, Outlook Express moves them to the Deleted Items folder. This folder functions like the Windows Recycle Bin. It holds items in case you want to see them again. To delete items permanently, you need to take the separate step of deleting them from the Deleted Items folder. Outlook Express does this for you automatically when you quit-provided you have told it to do so. To set up this behavior, choose Tools, Options. On the Maintenance tab, select Empty Messages From The 'Deleted Items' Folder On Exit.

Simply deleting messages will not significantly reduce the size of your message store, however! When you delete a message, Outlook Express marks the item as deleted but does not remove it from the disk file in which the folder is stored. Thus, over time, you can accumulate a significant amount of wasted disk space. Under these circumstances, Outlook Express's performance will suffer, even though the apparent contents of your folders is relatively small.

To reclaim the wasted disk space, you have to take a second step, called compacting. You can set Outlook Express to do this for you automatically when the wasted space reaches some specified percentage of your overall message store. To do this, choose Tools, Options. On the Maintenance tab, select Compact Messages In The Background. Then specify a value in the box next to Percent Wasted Space.

If you prefer to compact on demand, rather than having the program do it for you, click Clean Up Now on the Maintenance tab of the Options dialog box. To compact all of your folders, specify Outlook Express in the Local File(s) For list in the Local File Clean Up dialog box. To compact a particular folder, click Browse and then select the folder. Editor's Note: You can also compact individual or selected folders by clicking on File, Folders, and choose Compact or Compact All.

Windows 98

The following is a quote from the Windows 98 Secrets book: Undeleting Deleted Messages In Windows 98

If you delete an Outlook Express message, it goes to the Deleted Items folder. It's not exactly deleted--more like moved.

If you delete the message from the Deleted Items folder, you'll no longer be able to find its header in any of your Outlook Express folders. This doesn't mean it's gone though. It's still there, somewhat intact in the Deleted Items folder. Specifically, it's still in the mailbox file called Deleted Items.mbx (.mbx for MailBoX).

If you compact the Deleted Items folder, it's history. If you have marked the Empty Messages from the 'Deleted Items' Folder on Exit check box in the General tab of the Tools, Options dialog box, Outlook Express compacts this folder and permanently deletes messages when you exit the program. You'll want to clear this check box if you want to be able to undelete deleted messages.

If you haven't compacted the deleted Items folder, you can quickly retrieve missing messages. Here's how:

  1. Quit Outlook Express. But before you do, be sure to clear the Empty Messages from the 'Deleted Items' folder on Exit check box in the General tab of the Tools, Options dialog box, if you haven't already.

  2. Delete the Deleted Items.idx (.idx for InDeX) file in \Program Files\Outlook Express\yourusername\Mail (or \Windows\Application Data\Outlook Express\your username\Mail.)

  3. Restart Outlook Express. Click Deleted Items in the Folder List pane. You'll get an error message stating that the folder has been damaged and that it will now be repaired. Click OK. Outlook Express rebuilds the index from the mailbox file.

Your Deleted Items folder has been restored with the missing items back in it. Now you can delete again those messages that you really want to delete.

Deleted Items.mbx is for the most part a text file. (This is also true of the other mailbox files.) You can easily read it with Notepad or Wordpad. If you want to retrieve a piece of text from any of these files, just open it with either text editor.

You can use a manual method to compact the Deleted Items folder in addition to automatically compacting it with the Empty Messages from the 'Deleted Items' Folder on Exit option. Highlight the Deleted Items folder and choose File Folder, Compact.

Corrupted Folders

It appears to be quite easy to corrupt one of your Outlook Express folders. If you get an error message complaining about your Outbox, Inbox, Deleted Items, or Sent Items folder, you're going to have to delete at least the folder (.mbx) and its accompanying index (.idx). Outlook Express will construct a new, clean, empty folder for you i it is one of the standard folders. (If the folder is one you created, you will have to create it again.)

First, exit Outlook Express. Use Windows Explorer to navigate to \Program Files\Outlook Express\your username\Mail (or \Windows\Application Data \Outlook Express\yourusername\Mail.) Delete the index file, which is the .idx file associated with the corrupted folder--for example, Outbox.idx. Restart Outlook Express.

If that doesn't work, delete the .mbx file--for example, Outbox.mbx. This will delete all the text of messages in your Outbox, so you'll have to recreate the messages as described in Undeleting Deleted Messages.

Submitted by Charlotte Semple

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