Inside Outlook Express



Files and Settings

How to Maintain Your OE Store Folder


Automatic Maintenance (background compaction)

OE has an automatic maintenance feature that is enabled by default. It is designed to wait until OE has been idle for several minutes, and then begin to compact your mail and news folders in the background. The options to control this are found under Tools| Options| Maintenance. Those options are for newsgroup files, by the way, and not for mail folders. Also, the option to "delete messages after xx days" refers only to message bodies, not to message headers. OE will delete old news headers only when they are removed from the server. 

However, I cannot recommend using this automatic tool. If your computer should crash, or your phone line drop, or your power supply be interrupted while OE is busily compacting files, the result can be truly ugly. The entire message store can become corrupt, meaning you could lose all your mail messages. Furthermore, many people notice a serious drop in their computer's performance each time the background compaction begins. I strongly suggest you turn this feature off right now by removing the check mark for "Compact messages in the background."

Now you need to give some thought as to how you will manage your files manually. This is not hard to do, but it is easy to forget, and as your files grow in size you will see OE gradually begin to slow down. So whenever you notice a performance hit, it's definitely time to clean up your store. But it's safer to make file maintenance a regular event.  Once a week or so will keep OE in prime condition.

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Compact Your OE Folders

Like most database programs, OE does not actually remove an item from a *.dbx file when you delete a message. Instead it merely tags the item for removal at a later time, mainly when you next compact your folders. Until then, the deleted message is still occupying disk space, which can cause OE to perform more slowly when accessing the *.dbx file. To recover disk space and keep your files as small as possible, you need to compact your folders regularly. In the OE Folder list (View| Layout| Folder List), click Outlook Express so that no mail or news folder is open. Now click File| Work Offline so that no new messages will be arriving. Finally, click File| Folder| Compact All Folders. This process can take several minutes and you should not attempt to use your computer until it is finished. If an error occurs, such as "cannot compact, folder in use", just close OE, wait a second or two, then re-open OE and begin the process again. This will compact not only your news folders, but also all of your mail folders and the all-important Folders.dbx. To compact only news folders, click Tools| Options| Maintenance| Clean up Now, then click Compact.

To compact a single mail folder, just click once on the folder to select it, then click File| Folder| Compact. To compact a single newsgroup folder, right-click on the newsgroup, then click Properties| Local File| Compact. 

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Clean Up Your OE News Folders

To clean up your news folders, click Tools| Options| Maintenance| Clean Up Now. There you will see 4 buttons along with a brief description of their functions.

You can choose to apply any of these actions to all local folders, meaning Hotmail, IMAP and newsgroup folders, by leaving the default selection for "Local file(s) for: Outlook Express". To clean up all groups on an account, click the Browse button and select the account. To select just one group, Browse to that group (although you can get to this much faster in that case simply by right-clicking the newsgroup in the Folder list and selecting Properties| Local Files).

If you apply Remove, Delete or Reset, it is important that you also apply Compact to all folders that you have cleaned up. 

You might notice that there is one very important feature missing here. There is no button to delete only headers and messages that are older than a specified number of days, or only those headers and messages marked as Read or Ignored. This is not terribly troublesome on servers with a short retention time where messages are removed from the server after just a few days. But on servers with long retention times, like the 90 days typical of newsgroups on the Microsoft public news server, the build-up of old headers with or without message bodies can slow OE to a crawl, and in extreme cases, even crash the computer.

Fortunately there are two methods that work in both OE5 and OE6 to work around this limitation and allow you to delete old news headers and messages. Determining which method to use is really a question of personal taste, so take your pick.

Update: OE with Service Pack 1 now has a working DEL key in newsgroups.

To delete a news message/header from your local file, just press the DEL key. This works only in newsgroups, not in Advanced Find windows. It does not delete the message from the server, only from your local file. If you delete many messages at a time, be sure to compact the folder afterwards. If you want to retrieve a deleted news message, you will have to reset the newsgroup and download again.

This new feature works much faster than the following workarounds. You can now do maintenance of your news folders very simply. Try using a custom view (View | Current View | Define Views) to display only messages 2 weeks old, for example. Apply the view, select all (Edit | Select All), then press DEL. If you delete many messages at a time, be sure to compact the folder afterwards.

Use Message Rules to remove old news headers

Under Tools| Message Rules| News, create a rule like this:

Where the message was sent more than XX days ago
  Delete it
and Stop processing more rules

Now uncheck the box in front of the rule to turn it off. Otherwise OE will apply the rule automatically and you will be likely to miss messages. Remember that rules are applied automatically only when a message/header is first downloaded, and what we want here is to make a rule for messages/headers already downloaded.

Whenever you wish to remove old headers, go to Tools| Message Rules| News and click the Apply Now button. Click once on this rule, then Browse to the newsgroup you wish to clean and click Apply Now. To apply the rule to all groups on a news account, Browse to the account itself. To apply the rule to all groups on all news accounts, Browse to Outlook Express. You can of course use other conditions in your rule, or make several rules as the need arises.

After the rule finishes, close the Message Rules dialogue and compact all the folder(s) you cleaned.

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Use Advanced Find to delete old news headers

Press Ctrl-Shift-F (or click Edit| Find| Message) to open the Advanced Find dialogue, then enter the criteria for the headers/messages  you wish to delete.

In the results, select the headers/messages you wish to delete, then click Edit| Move to folder - or Ctrl-Shift-V, or drag-and-drop - and select the Deleted Items folder for the destination. Please note that drag-and-drop from a Find window does not work in all versions of OE5.

Now right-click on the Deleted Items folder and select Empty 'Deleted Items' folder. You should then  compact all folders.

There are a couple of limitations using this method. You must be in Online Mode, although you do not necessarily have to be connected to the Internet. Only downloaded messages can be moved to another folder, so if you attempt to use this on headers without bodies, OE will try to download the message body so that it can move it to the selected folder, even though that is the Deleted Items folder. 

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