How do you deal w. all that old email?
April 3, 2008 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious how people deal w. their old email. (esp those using Outlook and IMAP, but others, too...)

Hi. I’ve asked a related question here before, and seen others who have asked related stuff, too. But I still haven’t found an answer that quite works for me, so I thought I’d try again.

I assume I’m not particularly unusual in how I handle my email:

- I send and receive tons of mail
- I like to spend as little time as possible filing/sorting it. (Most of my mail just goes into a giant “done” folder when I’m finished with it)
- I like to be able to search it, fast. I do this a lot. My email history is kind of my life and my filing system.
- I keep more or less everything
- I like to be able to access my mail when I’m offline on my laptop (though I guess, really, I do this less and less often, as net access is more ubiquitous)
- I also like to be able to access archives of my email from the web when I’m away from my computer.

What I use now is:
- MS-Outlook 2003 (about to upgrade to 2007): I like it pretty well, and would rather not change, though I would if there were some perfect do-everything other solution.
- Lookout to search my email. (Which I’m guessing I might not need when I switch to Outlook 2007).
- I use as an IMAP server, and occasionally use their web interface to get at my mail when away from my computer.

Things mostly work pretty well.

The problem is that dealing with old email is a hassle. The biggest problem is that Outlook gets slow and unreliable as my PST file gets enormous. A less-pressing problem is that eventually I may run of space on fastmail (a 4 GB limit).

I figure I shouldn’t have to make Outlook open my Entire Mail History From Forever every time I open it up. Most of the time, I only need immediate access to, say, email from the past year or two. But once in a while, I need to be able to get at the older stuff. When I do, I’d like to be able to do a reasonably quick, powerful search.

There must be some useful way to keep my older mail separate, in a reasonably searchable form, but I haven’t figure it out.

I’m really curious: How do other people deal with this?

Is there an easy way to use multiple outlook psts and have them all be searchable?

Is there an easy way to remove folder/messages from an outlook PST while leaving them on the IMAP server? (I’d just as soon leave those old messages up there. There's tons of space on the server…)

Am I foolish to be using outlook for all this? Mostly, I like it well, but its crappiness in the face of large PST’s is really annoying.

Thanks, Green, for any ideas!
posted by ManInSuit to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
GMail, forever and ever, Amen.
posted by bryanjbusch at 8:38 AM on April 3, 2008

I delete everything as soon as I've responded to it. I figure that the relevant pieces of their message were captured somewhere in my response with my feelings inline, and if I didn't respond to it, it probably wasn't worth saving. I sort my Sent folder by Year/Quarter, so messages sent today end up in 2008/Q2.

I used to keep everything, and found that 99%+ of the time I just wanted my response to their message anyway, so why bother keeping their end of the conversation?
posted by togdon at 8:47 AM on April 3, 2008

Gmail does all that you ask.
posted by unixrat at 8:57 AM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: bryanjbusch, unixrat: I like the idea of gmail, but I don't think I'm quite ready to give up the ability to get at my old mail when I'm offline. And, of course, I'm also happy to keep using a system that I mostly know and like. Old dog, new tricks...
posted by ManInSuit at 9:02 AM on April 3, 2008

you can hook up gmail to outlook. i used thunderbird, it seems to handle large mailboxes much better than outlook does.
posted by unexpected at 9:36 AM on April 3, 2008

I get at my GMail with POP through Apple Mail. I've tried IMAP, but I could never figure why anybody'd want to keep copies of everything scattered all over the place.

I delete things quite recklessly from my mail client, saving only things I think I'll use in the future, but I very rarely delete things from GMail itself, so I've got a big ol' backup of everything when I need to get at old stuff.

That's my seldom-used personal account.

My work account is much sloppier. It's a tiny GoDaddy inbox, so everything gets saved into somewhat organized folders in my mail client and deleted from the server after a week.
posted by Plug Dub In at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2008

Use Outlook's automatic archiving to save out older mail to an archive.pst. You can then keep this file open in Outlook as a separate set of folders. The search will be file-based and thus slower than if you were searching against an Exchange mailbox and slightly slower than XPAT type searching against an IMAP server. You'll want to check from time to time that the archive.pst isn't getting too huge, but you can just save it off from time to time at 2007-archive.pst and such, with it being automated via script if you have those skills.
posted by rhizome at 9:41 AM on April 3, 2008

With fastmail, you can set up a rule that redirects a copy of all your incoming mail to gmail. So you could continue using your current setup but have an archive maintained at gmail as well. Lots of discussion of how to set this up on the fastmail boards at
posted by yarrow at 9:48 AM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: When I use outlook archiving to move mail to an archive.pst, do the old messages get removed from the IMAP server? (I'm hoping the answer is no...)
posted by ManInSuit at 9:51 AM on April 3, 2008

I have all my old email accounts forwarding to my Gmail. Gmail then auto tags them as they come in and they land in folders named by account, That way they aren't cluttering up my inbox and I check them when I feel like it.
posted by huxley at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2008

for my freelancing, i use gmail. i have it hooked up to outlook for ease of dragging and dropping files to my hard drive instead of downloading and saving them. because it's work related, and i'm paranoid, i keep a copy of the message on gmail's server and i have my local copy. for easy searches (when i know what folder it's in) i just use outlook. but for a fidgety search, i just go directly to gmail's web interface. it really does have a great search feature.

it took me a while to embrace gmail, and while i'm not as gaga over it as some, it does provide me with the redundancy i need to feel secure with work related emails and the ease of searching.

also, do you just have one big pst for all your emails, or do you have separate psts for each client/family member/whatever? i used to hate psts because you couldn't read pst messages in preview screen, but 2007 took care of that.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:58 PM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: m. Sarah:Right now I have one giant PST for everything. I'd love to separate it, but I'm not sure I can figure out how to do that without breaking stuff on the IMAP side.

Increasinly, I think this is what I'd like to do is this:

- Keep using Outlook/Fastmail for the time being
- Keep *everything* online at fastmail. (There's 6GB there, which should be good for a few years)
- Move older mails into a separate PST. (eg: a 2006 PST, a 2007 pst, and a "This year" pst)

But I can't figure out how to create those separate PST's without deleting the messages from the IMAP server at fastmail. I tried using the MS-Outlook archive feature, but it seems to delete messages from the IMAP server as well as the local email store. That's not what I want.

Anyone have tips? How can I get emails into separate PST's without messing up what's on the IMAP server?
posted by ManInSuit at 1:35 PM on April 3, 2008

I do exactly what you suggest by creating a new .pst file every year and saving my emails to it over the course of the year. I've been using this system for over 8 years now and never had any problems with it, but I have to confess I have no idea about the IMAP server and how it's affected.
posted by platinum at 4:59 PM on April 3, 2008

ManInSuit: on the surface without knowing whether you've specifically eschewed POP for any reason, it just sounds like the POP protocol would be better for what you need.

The main disadvantage of POP is that everything gets downloaded to your machine, which sounds like a requirement in your case. IMAP is designed to synchronize, which is why Outlook insists on behaving as if there should only be one instance of any given message, while with POP you can configure Outlook to "Leave a copy of messages on the server."

The archive feature can be configured folder-by-folder to dump email into different PSTs. That might come in handy.

Pros and Cons of IMAP/POP
posted by lordaych at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2008

Err, nevermind: “I also like to be able to access archives of my email from the web when I’m away from my computer.”

Consider managed Exchange hosting.

I bet they'd even let you upload your old PSTs...
posted by lordaych at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2008

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