How to convert an old Outlook Express 4 mail archive for Mac OS X?
January 2, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I found an archive of old mail I got in the late 90's using Outlook Express 4 (OE4). The files are in .mbx format, not in .dbx (and certainly not in standard mbox). Opening the files in an hex editor allows me to view the content of those mailboxes. Is there anyway to convert that mail archive into something more usable for Mac OS X (or Linux)?

The .mbx, .idx, and folders.nch files are there. There are 145 mailboxes, including the inbox, outbox, sent items, drafts, and trash. I tried converting the messages using various software and tools. There's no luck using anything on Mac OS X, so I'm running Windows XP in a virtual machine in Parallels.

Trying to import them in the pre-installed Outlook Express 6 (OE6) on Windows XP tells me that "No messages can be found in this folder [...]," despite no file is set to read-only. Trying to import them in Eudora recreates the folder structure, but crashes when trying to import the messages. After restarting Eudora, the folders are still there, but they are all empty. Thunderbird gave me a similar result, without crashing. I also tried to trick OE6 into converting OE4 .mbx files that I copied in the application data directory into the newer .dbx format, but OE6 just ignores them.

Is there any way I can convert those messages? It's not important to have the messages -- it's only for nostalgia -- but it'd be nice to have them. Preferably a way that doesn't cost anything, if possible.

Thanks in advance and a Happy New Gregorian Year to all!
posted by remi to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
mbx2mbox maybe or one of the programs on its related-software page?
posted by hattifattener at 8:45 PM on January 2, 2010

Five years ago I converted my 1996-2005 email archive from PMMail (obscure OS/2-Windows mailer, sorely missed) to Thunderbird, mbox format I think. Aid4Mail was crucial in that effort. It's not free, and worth every penny.
posted by intermod at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2010

Best answer: I just remembered the browser archive at Evolt. I was able to download a copy of Internet Explorer 4, bundled with Outlook Express 4. I cannot install the software, but I can extract OE4 out of the file. I can run OE4 flawlessly. Since I copied my old archive in its mail store, I can see the mail folders, subject lines, and new mail counts, but each message is blank.
posted by remi at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2010

Best answer: I bet the messages are blank because the IE4 renderer is somehow involved in display of individual messages.
posted by killdevil at 9:34 PM on January 2, 2010

Google turns up lots of interesting stuff in response to an "outlook express 4 reader" search, some of which is pay crapware.

A quick look suggests this one may be free.
posted by killdevil at 9:36 PM on January 2, 2010

Response by poster: Good call, killdevil. I agree with you. Now that I've tried OE6 to import the messages from OE4, it was able to import all the messages successfully. I can also read any message now.

I tried mbx2mbox suggested by hattifattener. It works! Although, I cannot preserve the folder hierarchy and names, I can convert each .mbx file into an mbox file. Unfortunately, when trying to import them in, most of the mailboxes are blank, while mailboxes with unread mail will only display one message. Apparently, other people have the same problem.

I'll keep you all posted on my progress. I think I'm getting closer now. Maybe I can simply upload all those messages to my Gmail account via IMAP.
posted by remi at 9:47 PM on January 2, 2010

Emailchemy is not free, but if you just want the content the demo should work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:56 PM on January 2, 2010

I went through something like this a while (multiple years) ago. The boxes I was trying to convert were created using an old version of Outlook Express for Mac, and I wanted to get them into Apple Mail.

This was a while, but the process I used involved running Outlook Express in OS 9 / "Classic" mode (which now requires a PPC, not Intel, Mac, I think) and exporting the mailboxes to some intermediate format, which I then imported using Apple Mail.

Apple Mail has an oft-overlooked Import function which will pull in mail from several other programs, include Outlook (but maybe not Outlook Express?), and I used that for the final step.

For backup and archive purposes, I then set up an IMAP server instance on a Linux machine, with mbox as the storage format, and copied all my messages onto it from within Mail. (The archive / offiline-backup is as easy as copying the files from wherever they reside on the Linux server, typically ~/Mail or something.)

mbx2mbox seems very familiar, but I don't think I actually used it for my conversion; I wanted to preserve something that it wasn't keeping, maybe? Something about going through OE, maybe Outlook, and then Apple Mail preserved the most information, including all the nested folders.

Good luck.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:18 PM on January 2, 2010

Response by poster: I was able to convert my messages and store them in my IMAP account.

I downloaded IE4 and ran OE4 like I described above. OE4 will create a mail storage directory when launched for the first time, in which I copied my .mbx and .idx files after closing OE4. When running the program again, all the mail was there, but I couldn't read any message because OE4 is trying to use IE4 to render the display, which isn't installed (and isn't necessary in this case).

When launching OE6, I successfully imported OE4's mail and converted it into OE6's newer format. In turn, I launched Thunderbird for Windows to convert the mail in OE6 into its own format, which is the same than Thunderbird for Mac OS X.

Mac OS X Mail can import messages from Thunderbird, but the body was always blank until I upgraded Thunderbird from version 2 to 3 and tried again. After I was done importing all my messages in Mail, I was able to copy them to the IMAP server.

That's a lot of conversion involved, but it finally worked.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by remi at 4:29 AM on January 3, 2010

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