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Monday, January 11, 2010

How to migrate Outlook mail from XP to Windows 7

One of the issues that's sure to come up, now that Windows 7 is gaining traction, is how to take your Outlook settings, e-mails, and such-like and move them to a Windows 7 machine.

 In my own case - I have Outlook 2003 installed on Windows XP and I am building up a "new" machine with Windows 7 on it, so I needed to figure out how to migrate my stuff.

Also - I tend to swap computers back-and-forth.  For example, when I travel, I take a Compaq laptop with me, but I use my AthlonXP powered desktop when I'm at home.  So, I periodically "syncronize" (swap back-and-forth) the e-mail files between the two machines.

In XP the correspondence is relatively easy to follow, since most of the Outlook data is located in two places:
  1. C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\
    There is an "Outlook" folder that you copy in its entirety to the new location.  This folder has stored settings specific to your e-mail stuff.
    There are also "Signature" and "Stationary" folders here as well, if you have pre-defined signatures or stationary you use.

  2. C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\
    There is an "Outlook" folder that you also copy in it's entirety.  This folder actually contains your mail files and such.  Depending on how much e-mail you have, these files can get pretty darn big!

  3. Certain other data about your e-mail - such as account information, logins, server preferences, etc. - are (supposedly) located somewhere in the Registry.  I haven't gone looking for them yet.  And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want to just go cutting, hacking, and pasting from XP's Registry into Windows 7's Registry.  I'd really want to know a whole lot more about what I'm doing before I start that kind of Open Heart Surgery on a computer.
  • I am talking about Outlook - not Outlook Express.
    • I've never used Outlook Express, so I cannot comment on it.

  • I'm talking about Outlook 2003.
    • If you have Outlook 2007, I have heard rumors that it is essentially similar.  I haven't installed Outlook 2007 yet, so I can't speak directly to that from my own experience.
    • If you have an older version of Outlook, you will have to first upgde to 2003 (or better) before you can even think of doing any of this stuff!

  • I am talking about a personal installation of Outlook, using ISP provided mail servers - usually POP and/or SMTP mail servers.
    • If you have Outlook set up to use an Exchange Server for your e-mail, you probably have a system administrator that should be helping you with this.  Migrating Exchange hosted e-mail is outside the scope of this article.  It's not difficult, it's just a totally different beast.
    • Sysadmins:  The user's localized settings and .ost /.pst files might well be located in these same places, based on the installation's configuration.

  • I am talking about a manual migration, dragging files and folders around "brute-force", so to speak.
    • The good part about this is that it costs you absolutely nothing, whereas the payware migration software out there can hit you up for $60 or better.
    • The bad part about this is that - bottom line - YOU own it.  At the risk of mangling a great line from Blazing Saddles:  "One false move, and the e-mail gets it!"  The bottom line here is that if you know enough to do this, you also know enough to not come crying to me if you accidentally clobber your e-mail.  Can YOU say "backups"?  Ahhh!  I KNEW you could!
    • If you have a LOT of machines to migrate, (and if you have that many, you should really consider a centralized mail-store like Exchange), the payware solution might end up saving you money and grief in the long-run since they supposedly migrate everything - including registry settings, etc.

  • You will have to have "show hidden files and folders" as well as "show hidden system files" enabled on both XP and Win-7 before you will see these paths. 

 Migrating Outlook from Windows XP to Windows-7 Executive Summary:

The basic folder-to-folder correspondence is as follows:

The XP folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)

Is located in the Windows 7 folder:
C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)


The XP folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (where all the mail files reside)

Is located in the Windows 7 folder:
C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\

 How I accomplished the move:
  1.  The first thing I did was to install Office 2003 (which included Outlook in my case) on the target Windows 7 machine.

  2. Once the installation completed, I shut down the computer and attached the old "XP" drive as secondary.  You can attach it directly to the hard drive controller - (I have several drive-bays on my main machine for just this reason) - or you can attach it through a hard-drive-to-USB adapter.

  3. Once you restart the machine and launch Outlook, you are prompted to set up an e-mail account. I set up a bogus@bogus.com "fake" account so that Outlook would build the appropriate directory structures.
    1. I didn't set up a REAL account yet, because Outlook gets pretty darn agressive when it comes to sucking e-mail off your servers - and I wanted to get the "where to put it" set up first.

  4. I then closed down Outlook and opened up File Explorer windows in Windows 7 - one for each drive.

  5. I copied the
    C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)
    folders off of the XP drive and placed them in the
    C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook\ (as well as ..\Signatures\ and ..\Stationary\)
    folders on the Win-7 machine.
    1. You will get some prompts to overwrite things - go ahead and let it.

  6. I copied the
    C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\
    folder off of the XP drive and placed it in the
    C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\
    folder on the Win-7 machine.

    1. You will get some prompts to overwrite things - like Outlook.pst, or Desktop.ini - go ahead and let it overwrite.
    2. Because you are moving your main mail files here, this copy may take a LONG time to complete.  Maybe even measured in hours.  Go get a cuppa coffee.  Read the paper.  Take a nice loooong walk outside.  You get the idea, right?

  7. Once the copies are complete, shut down and disconnect the XP drive - just in case!

  8. Restart the computer, and restart Outlook.

    You should notice that Outlook comes up with all your mail folders intact.  If this does *NOT* happen, stop right here and review your steps.  This has to be right before you can move on.  Hopefully you copied from XP to 7, and not vice-versa, as that will have clobbered the mail-files on the XP box.  This is why backups are so important!

  9.  Now, you need to go to "Tools --> E-Mail Accounts" and begin to configure your actual e-mail accounts, both send and receive, just the way you had them before.  Passwords, server names, the works!  (This is the stuff in the Registry that we didn't hack with, remember?)

  10. When you are setting up your e-mail account, or accounts if you have more than one, I usually go to the "More Settings" button to open up an advanced settings window, and then select the "Advanced" tab.  On this tab you will find the check-box "Leave e-mail on server", and check this box to enable that feature
    1. I usually check "Leave e-mail on server" to "ON" when I'm testing a new e-mail client as a saftey precaution.  This way if I accidentally screw something up, I can always go back to the old client on the old machine and everything's still working just fine!


Because we did not even try to mess with Outlook's Registry settings - certain information and preferences does not automatically come across when the move is made.  However these things can be fixed-up rather quickly.
  • In my case, I have a great many individual mail folders - and sub-folders! - along with a whole host of rules set up to automagically sort my e-mail upon arrival.
    • Though the rules - and their associated folders - survived the migration, sometimes the correspondence between the folder within a rule - and the actual mail folder itself - gets un-linked.  Probably because of the big differences in paths between the two systems.
    • What will happen is that you will generate Rule Errors complaining that it could not move the mail to the respective folder - and the affected e-mails will remain in your Inbox instead of being moved to the correct folder.
    • To fix this, go to the  "Tools" menu, select "Rules and Alerts", and then on the "E-mail Rules" tab, select the rule that had the problem.  Double click on the underlined folder name Outlook could not find, (it may appear to be absolutely correct!), and re-select the corresponding mail folder from the list.  Click "OK" to close the rule and save changes.  Next click "Run Rules Now" along the top, select the rule you just edited, and run that rule on the Inbox.  All the offending e-mails should now get moved to the correct folder.
    • Repeat this for any other rule errors encountered.

  • The Outlook "reading" format will default back to the original screen layout.  In my case, I greatly prefer the "reading pane on the bottom" layout, so I go to "View" on the top menu bar, select "Reading Pane" about half-way down, and then check "Bottom".

  • If you moved your Signatures folder, all your custom signatures will have made the move with you, but the associations between the signatures and your e-mails may not have.
    • To fix this, go to "Tools" on the top menu bar, then select "Options" (all the way down at the bottom!), and then select the "Mail Format" tab.
    • Down at the bottom of this tab are the fields where you set the signature for new mails as well as replies.  If you have more than one e-mail account, you have to select each one individually from the "Select signatures for account:" drop down, and set signature preferences for each one.
    • Select "OK" to exit.

  • You may notice that Outlook now starts out on the topmost, most global, folder view called "Today".  Usually people have Outlook configured to start with their Inbox showing, (or their Calendar, etc.) rather than the, (IMHO, totally useless), "Today" page.
    • To fix this, if you have the "Tools" --> "Options" page still open, click on the "Other" tab, and then near the top click on the "Advanced Options" button.  Otherwise, navigate back to it, click on "Other" then "Advanced Options".
    • At the very top of the Advanced Options page is a browse selector labeled "Startup in this folder:".  Click on "Browse" and select the Outlook folder you wish to open when you start Outlook.
    • Click on the "OK" button twice and you're done!
What say ye?



  1. thanks a lot that step by step guide will help me a lot since I am renewing my operating system and I had no remote idea how to do it, but I do now, thanks!

  2. Excellent article. Worked perfectly - going from XP to Win7-64.


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