September 30, 2009 5:44 PM   Subscribe

My Outlook 2003 program is suddenly freezing ALL. THE. TIME. I have tried repairing the .pst folder, creating a new profile, and loading the system CD -- no love. (In fact, I loaded the system CD and it couldn't even FIND the file I needed to check Outlook.) I have done a virus scan -- it's fine. Help. (And PLEASE, PLEASE do not be cute by responding with "Get a Mac," unless you are going to give me the money to do so.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Computers & Internet (41 answers total)
To follow up: I CAN get Outlook to do each step, but Each. Step. In. Everything. I. Do. Takes. Several. Minutes.

For example: I open it. It takes three minutes to open. I try to open an email so I can respond to it. It takes three minutes to open that email. I click on reply -- it takes three minutes to pull up that new message box. I move the cursor to change the subject line - it takes several minutes to register. I type and hit send -- it takes three minutes to send.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 PM on September 30, 2009

Possible Solutions:
1) Upgrade to Outlook 2008
2) Make sure you have all unnecessary extensions/plugins turned off.
3) Cut down the number of smart folders.
4) Archive and keep your main .pst really small.
5) Try without your AV software - sometimes it's the culprit
posted by TravellingDen at 6:01 PM on September 30, 2009

A couple questions:

What exactly is "AV software"?

If I upgrade to Outlook 2008, what will that do to the files I already have?

Is there a way to open the .pst folders WITHOUT opening Outlook itself? Because I tried deleting a lot of the email in my sent file, but that took an hour (five minutes to open the "Sent" folder, five minutes to scroll down to emails I could delete, five minutes to select each individual email, five minutes to hit the "delete" button, five minutes to select the "deleted items" folder, five minutes to "empty" deleted items..you get the idea.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 PM on September 30, 2009

Is there a way to open the .pst folders WITHOUT opening Outlook itself?

Oh, the number of times I've wished there were.

AV is antivirus. Which one are you using?
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 PM on September 30, 2009

Try to create a new pst folder by creating a new Outlook account, and see if anything is different. This could tell you if it's the program, or the pst file itself.

Another thing to try is compacting your pst folder. It might take a really long time to compact (with the numbers you mention above, it might take overnight), but it might help.

This is from memory, so it might be a little off..

Go to File -> Data File Maintenance (or Management?) -> Settings -> Compact File. On a good machine with a relatively small pst file, this might take a minute or two.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:51 PM on September 30, 2009

I had this problem (I'm running Outlook 2000).

TravellingDen's suggestion to "archive and keep your main .pst really small" is ultimately what worked for me. Since I've been saving almost all the emails I've sent and received since 2003 (I know, I'm crazy) the .pst file was enormous. I broke it down by year and now only have Outlook run this year's .pst.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:16 PM on September 30, 2009

Possible cause for this is that something is trying to access a network folder. Go into Windows Explorer and disconnect all your mapped network drives, then to into My Network Places and remove the shortcuts to any network drives that you may have visited. See if that helps. Also, try defragmenting the drive (Defraggler is a nice, free tool for this). Finally, I agree with the antivirus suggestion as well - my work forces Symantec on everyone and it SUCKS (that's why I forcibly disabled it - after 27 years in the game I'm pretty sure I don't need diapers anymore).

Another thing to try is removing your public folders if you have them in Outlook.

A neat, little-known trick with Outlook is that if you hold down CTRL while right-clicking the Outlook systray icon, you'll see a new previously-hidden menu option: Connection Status. This will show you the connections that OL is trying to make as it does it's thing. See if any of those connections are freezing up. If so, you might like to edit your hosts file and add whatever hostnames are freezing up in the Connection Status window into your hosts file as mapped to That'll instantly slap OL down each time it tries to access a host that might be freezing. You might have some email that's trying to 'call out' to a website or something that isn't accessible from your location (shrug).

An-y-way. No such thing (yet) as Outlook 2008 (I used the F.L.U.I.D. principle to determine this). And while we're being real, yeah, you can open and fix PST files without Outlook.
posted by tra at 7:24 PM on September 30, 2009

I do a pretty good job of deleting things to my inbox, but I did try removing a bunch of crap from my "sent" box. It didn't help too much.

I use AVG for anti-virus. I have a lot of system memory -- 47.6 GB is free.

I tried compacting the file, but doing so just froze Outlook after a couple minutes.

I'm going to try downloading and installing the Office 2003 update and see if that helps. I've been using the Microsoft Update program for everything, but don't know if they've been doing anything for Office 2003 specifically.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 PM on September 30, 2009

Try this:

1. Click Start.

2. Click Run.

3. Type "Outlook.exe /safe" sans the quote marks.

This will start Outlook is safe mode. If the problem goes away, it's _likely_ a plug-in causing the problem.

Can you offer some VERY specific examples of when the freeze occurs?

posted by tcv at 7:39 PM on September 30, 2009

TCV: Hmm. It seems to run better in safe mode, so you may be on to something. How would I ascertain where the plug-in would be that caused the problem? (I don't even know how I would have plugged anything INTO Outlook.)

As for the "very specific examples," here's the cases where I've found it freeze:

* When I start it up
* When my calendar tries to remind me of something
* when I resort my inbox by name
* when I open an email
* when I hit "reply" to respond to that email
* When I go to type in the subject line
* When I hit "send"
* when I minimize the message window to read Outlook
* Every time I ask it to do anything at all

Just now, IN SAFE MODE, it froze when I tried to read the "settings" for my folder under "data file management." I also have it in safe mode, and it's hanging when I try to pull up sent mail (so I can get rid of more files).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 PM on September 30, 2009

Well, I don't have Outlook 2003 available to me at the moment to point out where to find the plugins, but...

I think if you go to Tools and Options, then the Advanced tab, you can find some of the plug ins under a couple of buttons. All kinds of applications may add a plug-in to Outlook. Some antivirus applications do, for instance.

It doesn't sound like Safe Mode really helped here. So, it's likely not a problem.

Do you know what Service Pack you're running for Office 2003? You can check under Help -> About Microsoft Outlook.

Here's a link to Office 2003, SP3.

A couple of more questions:

1. How many PST files do you have loaded into Outlook?

2. Are you connected to an Exchange server?

3. What are the sizes of your PST files?

Sorry this is a big brain dump. It's a bit late for me. Warning: I'm off to bed!
posted by tcv at 8:31 PM on September 30, 2009

I had a similar problem last week, and repairing the PST files didn't help. What did was deleting the OST file. Suddenly it worked perfectly. I'm not sure if that'll help, but thought it might be worth a try.
posted by chana meira at 9:00 PM on September 30, 2009

Troubleshooting basics:

1- Did it work fine at one point? Yes? Then it is capable of working. Upgrading or adding service packs will just confuse issues.

2- What happened in the interim?

If it was me, I'd export everything, delete Outlook and reinstall it, and then reimport everything. Or, first, try that deleting the ost file deal. I think that's an index to what's in the pst file. Is there a "compact files" option? I don't remember.
posted by gjc at 10:11 PM on September 30, 2009

...I have a lot of system memory -- 47.6 GB is free.

K, this is amount of free disk space. System memory is the amount of RAM your computer has.

Right click the "My Computer" icon and select 'Properties'. Under the 'General' tab you should see a line that ends with "X MB of RAM" or "X GB or RAM. What does that line say?
posted by sideshow at 12:41 AM on October 1, 2009

Good morning. We have something of an update.

* I have 0.99 gb of RAM available.

* The problem I keep running into with the re-install is that I get to a point where it is looking for a specific DLL file, and asks me where it is -- I don't know anything more than "it's on the disc I put in the D drive," and it asks me to pick a directory but I can't find it so I have to give up.

* I have it running in safe mode again this morning, and it is working a lot better. Last night, while I had it in safe mode, I cleaned out a LOT of sent mail -- I've been sending out a lot of things with attachments over the past year, and I just got rid of everything that had an attachment, and moved a couple of my mail folders into an archive. Then shutting down and leaving everything alone until this morning seemed to help. I'm not sure I trust it enough to try running it for real until I look for more things to delete (I'll go through more of the sent mail to wipe out other email later).

* Questions: How would I ascertain how many PST files I have, and how would I ascertain whether I'm attached to an Exchange Server? (Sorry -- I know just enough about computers to get me into trouble, and may have to be walked through some troubleshooting.)

I have a hunch that I just need to clean out more to fix this. But I'll check out everything to be sure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 AM on October 1, 2009

Another update (now that I'm at work):

While I was in safe mode, I also tried asking it to compress the data files -- and that started doing that, and......stayed there. I decided to just leave my computer running and doing that, and left for work -- will report back when I get home and see what it's doing. (I assumed that I just had a LOT of compression it had to do, and that that would take a while, so I'm giving it a while and seeing if that completes before I just blithely assume it froze).

Will keep you posted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on October 1, 2009

Have you tried running the Office Repair? You can do that by going to add/remove programs, selecting MS Office, then clicking repair. It's usually an option when you run the setup executable.

Doing the .ost repair is good advice as well.

Good luck!
posted by karizma at 3:03 PM on October 1, 2009

You can determine whether you have an Exchange connection via Tools -> Accounts. If you see an item listed as "Microsoft Exchange," then you are on Exchange! :-)

To determine how many PSTs you have, you can click File -> Data File Mangement. You'll see a list of Personal Folder files attached to Outlook. Each line is one PST.
posted by tcv at 7:14 PM on October 1, 2009

Have you tried running the Office Repair? You can do that by going to add/remove programs, selecting MS Office, then clicking repair. It's usually an option when you run the setup executable.

Same problem as when I try to re-install -- it asks for the location of a particular .dll file and I haven't the foggiest where I'd find that file.

To determine how many PSTs you have, you can click File -> Data File Mangement. You'll see a list of Personal Folder files attached to Outlook. Each line is one PST.

I only have one. Is that bad?

I compressed all the files. I'm still having hang issues even in safe mode. But I'm going to try paring down even more of my email and seeing if that helps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 PM on October 1, 2009

Bit of a left-field one: is your hard disk making any unusual slide....click noises as Outlook attempts to do its thing? If there's a marginally readable sector somewhere in your PST or in the Outlook executable or one of its DLLs or the system page file, and your hard disk is handing that to Windows after retrying the read several times, that can slow things down a hell of a lot.

Try running DiskCheckup against your drive. It's quick, and because it only asks the drive for information that the drive collects continuously anyway, harmless. If you see a nonzero raw value for "sectors pending reallocation", this may well be the cause of your slowdown.
posted by flabdablet at 3:55 AM on October 2, 2009

The hard disk isn't making any noise. Should I try running DiskCheckup still?

Also, what is that thing about the OST file again?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:57 AM on October 2, 2009

Oh, and another thing:

A neat, little-known trick with Outlook is that if you hold down CTRL while right-clicking the Outlook systray icon, you'll see a new previously-hidden menu option: Connection Status. This will show you the connections that OL is trying to make as it does it's thing.

Yeah, this didn't work -- I didn't get anything like "Connection Status."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 AM on October 2, 2009

Oh -- huh. Just noticed this -- whenever I'm in safe mode, and I'm asking Outlook to do something (it's freezing even in safe mode now) -- I get TWO Outlook icons in the bottom right corner of my screen. Then when one of those Outlook icons disappears, my Outlook has stopped hanging and I can do stuff with it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:02 AM on October 2, 2009

Final update before I go to work -- the file I keep missing when I try to repair is SKU011.CAB. I insert the installation disk, and it asks me to browse and find the file where it is -- but I have no idea where to look.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:09 AM on October 2, 2009


I just mentioned above that trying to run the repair yielded the error message that I needed file sku011.cab to run. I just googled that to see what it was -- and got this web page.

Can someone look that over and tell me whether that person knows what he's talking about, and maybe if that's what I should try?

I know I've claimed computer illiteracy in the comments above; but I can follow detailed instructions like this with success (I'll print it out at work and refer to that as I do this later). But -- does that web page sound like it knows what it's talking about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 AM on October 2, 2009

Did you ever check to see which service pack you're running in Outlook?

Help -> About Outlook
posted by tcv at 5:19 AM on October 2, 2009

Did you ever check to see which service pack you're running in Outlook?

? Can you explain the relevance?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2009

does that web page sound like it knows what it's talking about?

Yes, especially the bit about noting down the previous contents of the registry value you're about to change experimentally. If you do that, you won't go far wrong.

As to the likely correctness of the listed cure: can't say. But if it were me, I'd try it, simply because it's so easy to unwind if it doesn't work as advertised.
posted by flabdablet at 10:03 AM on October 2, 2009

>does that web page sound like it knows what it's talking about?

Yes, especially the bit about noting down the previous contents of the registry value you're about to change experimentally.

Oh, HELL yeah.

I've poked around a few other sites searching for that .CAB file error (I know I said upthread it was a .dll file error when I tried to repair -- I was trying to remember and getting it wrong), and other similar sites seem to indicate that this is an unfortunately common and random problem. Microsoft's own tech site seems to also admit it's a problem (although they only admit it happens when you're first installing, and suggest a different thing you download). But I'm sticking to sites specifically where people are trying to fix something that just stopped working and they get to the same point I did, where they're trying to repair something and they get a message looking for that file, and this is a solution that seems to work at least most of the time. (I've come across some cases where it created a different problem because now a different file was "missing," but I followed one thread where the guy just kept looking for the different files online and going to different forum threads and repairing each one each step of the way and was fine after three-four fixes; if that's the worst-case scenario, I'm comfortable playing with that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2009


Okay. I followed the instructions in the "sku011.cab" link above, and restarted my system. That in and of itself did not fix the problem -- but it DID allow me to finally run a "repair system" check on Microsoft Office. I did that, restarted the system again - and started up OUTLOOK in safe mode again, just in case. And I got a whole "setting up account/migrating user data" splash screen for a while, which looked like it was the first time I was ever using Outlook, so clearly SOMETHING had happened. When that finally went away, it brought me to my usual inbox, with all my email files in place. I had to prompt it to check email, and it downloaded email I had previously confirmed was there in my webmail box.

So I'm tentatively thinking that this may have fixed it. I'm going to get rid of a few more really big emails and clean it up a bit more, shut down Outlook and let it rest for the night, and try again in the morning. But this does look very promising.

To recap in case anyone comes along with a similar problem: what I'm ASSUMING happened is that somehow, my Outlook got borked, and that problem was further compounded by this weird "sku011.cab" error which was preventing me from diagnosing and fixing things. I fixed that sku011.cab error first so that the system could then fix the REAL problem, and my cleaning up emails is just going to be to make sure everything else also works properly.

Does that sound like I have a fair assesment of what happened?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on October 2, 2009


I've just tried to open up a particular big email, and it's hanging on that.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 PM on October 2, 2009

How big is the .pst file at present?
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 PM on October 2, 2009

The .pst file is 115, 089 KB. It used to be 277,000 KB before I started compressing and deleting stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:57 AM on October 3, 2009

My pst is currently at 194Mb and I have no problems opening it, so I'm thinking the actual size isn't the problem.

Is the big email it's hanging on full of pictures? Maybe it's trying to access the original source of the pictures (a URL?) and that is the process that is hanging? I sometimes experience a hang when I click on a link in an email if my browser isn't already open.

Do you have another computer available with Outlook installed? You could copy your pst file to a flash drive and try to open it on another machine. This might help you diagnose whether the problem is within the file, or in the Outlook installation itself.

I would be willing to try it, if you're comfortable with a random Internet stranger possibly seeing personal emails. (Not that I would go rooting through it.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:44 AM on October 3, 2009

Another thought - save your pst file offline, and reinstall Outlook. You'll probably lose some settings/preferences, but you'll still have the emails.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:46 AM on October 3, 2009

Final update (in which things aren't COMPLETELY fixed, but at least I know what the fuck is going on):

Okay, NOBODY could have seen this coming, so far as I know.

I finally broke down and called a local computer expert I've used in the past (I cannot recommend her enough if you're in the New York area, by the way -- NY Geek Girls) and she was able to remote in and check things out. She found out that my profile had been corrupted, and repaired it.

But then she found that the thing that had CAUSED the problem was, strangely enough, an iTunes update. She had no idea how an ITunes update affected Outlook, but that seemed to be the source of things -- we figured that the computer had just burped. She disconnected ITunes from outlook, fired Outlook up, things worked great, and then she shut it down, and then fired up ITunes to finish updating that.

Except then, later, when I went to open up Outlook again, I was having the same damn problem.

I Googled "itunes outlook update" -- and I found this. Apparently, the newest version of iTunes shoves an add-in into Outlook, without your knowing it, and that add-in has been crashing Outlook all over the damn place. The only way to disable that add-in is to manually do it each and every time you use i-Tunes -- because every time you use i-Tunes, it turns it back on and plugs it back in.

I have traced down how to disable that add-in, but my Outlook isn't staying unfrozen long enough to actually let me REMOVE the damn thing. ARG.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:20 PM on October 3, 2009

FINAL final update:

I just removed iTunes from my computer entirely. Outlook doesn't work totally perfectly yet, but it at least functions, and I'm chalking the current pokiness up to "it went through a lot". I'm going to run Outlook in safe mode for the next couple days to be...safe.

But yeah, it was that iTunes plugin that was causing the whole problem, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:06 PM on October 3, 2009

It's like the most annoying programs on your computer are conspiring amongst themselves!

Ditch both of them. Or at least ditch Outlook. It's not worth this level of pain. Thunderbird is free, reliable, runs on anything, stores mail in plain-text mbox files instead of proprietary binary blobs, can be persuaded to sync its address book with Gmail, and provided you leave Outlook as the default mail client until you've finished importing all your mails, it can import all your existing Outlook mails to get you started.
posted by flabdablet at 8:54 PM on October 3, 2009

Flabdablet: would I be able to use Thunderbird as the mail program that lets me get email sent to my pipeline.com address? (I rarely use my gmail -- I've had the pipeline.com address for 15+ years and that's the one I'm most concerned about being able to use).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:57 AM on October 4, 2009

Yes, you would. It's even got a settings importer which, if Outlook is feeling cooperative, should let it pull your existing Outlook mail account settings in for you. If that doesn't work, you'll just need to set up your mail account(s) by hand.

Unlike Outlook, the Thunderbird settings are not all tucked away in obscure little corners under eight levels of badly named menus. You've got Tools->Account Settings, which controls all the stuff that pertains to each mail account, and Tools->Options, which controls all the stuff that pertains to Thunderbird as a whole. I don't imagine you'll have much trouble figuring out how to drive it. If you do, post back here and any number of people will be able to help.

If you're using POP3 to fetch your mails (most people do), then once you've set up an account in Thunderbird and imported all your existing Outlook mails, you should use Control Panel->Add/Remove Programs->Set Program Access and Defaults to set Thunderbird as the default email program and disable access to Outlook.

POP3 is usually set up to delete mails from the service provider's mailbox after fetching them to your computer, and Outlook and Thunderbird don't store the mails they fetch in the same place. Mails arriving after you've done your big Outlook->Thunderbird import will end up accessible only via the same mail program that fetched them, and you will want that to be Thunderbird, not Outlook. Outlook will not be able to mess this up if you've disabled access to it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:05 PM on October 4, 2009

In the end, I got my Outlook fixed again -- my computer guru had crashed it that second time by re-opening iTunes, but after I erased iTunes she fixed Outlook again and now everything's great.

So THIS problem is now fixed, but that creates another minor one, which by now should probably be a separate question.

Thanks to all, consider this a warning, and I'll see you in a couple minutes if you want to keep playing along with the saga.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2009

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