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How to Quit Microsoft Outlook, Part II: Back Up Before You Pack Up

Don't make your move until you find and archive Outlook's PST file, which contains all your important data.

Last week I announced my plans to "divorce" Microsoft Outlook, a program I've used for many years to manage my contacts, appointments, notes, and email.

My chief complaints: bugs, bloat, and poor overall performance.

I should have clarified that I'm running Outlook 2010, I don't use Microsoft Exchange, and the plug-ins I referenced have long since been uninstalled (because they didn't work) -- so they're not to blame for the interminable load times.

Speaking of which, I have since uninstalled and reinstalled all of Office Professional 2010, but it made no difference. For whatever reason, Outlook takes forever to load on my system.

Thankfully, as a self-employed person who works in a home office, I don't need Outlook. I do, however, prefer some kind of mail client (as opposed to an entirely Web-based solution). Offline access to messages is one key reason; another is archiving old mail for future reference. But I think the biggest advantage lies in accessing multiple email accounts under one roof.

Migrating from Outlook to another mail client can be a little tricky, if only because of the complications involved in preserving all your stuff. Outlook stores email, contacts, calendar entries, and other data inside a PST file.

Unless you relish the idea of starting from scratch, the program you're moving to should have the option of importing from a PST. That limits your options a bit, but we'll come back to that in a future post.

For now, let's focus on finding the PST and making a backup copy. You should do this only after you've officially stopped using Outlook, only when you're ready to make the move to your new program, otherwise additional information will get added to the PST and won't carry over.

To locate the PST (for Outlook 2010), do this:

1. Start Outlook. Wait five minutes for it to load. (Kidding, kidding -- but that's about how long it takes on my system.)

2. Switch to Mail view.

3. In the folders pane on the left, locate Personal Folders (it should be at the very top).

4. Right-click Personal Folders, then choose Open File Location.

Presto: You should see a new window containing an assortment of Outlook files. On my system, for example, I have archive.pst, backup.pst, and Outlook.pst (though only this last is current; the other two are probably carry-overs from earlier versions).

By the way, don't be surprised if you don't see the PST extension: By default, Windows doesn't show file extensions. But you should see a file labeled simply Outlook; that's your PST.

Now that you've found it, copy it to a flash drive, external hard drive, or even another folder on your current drive. (Now that you know where it's located, you can always leave it be, too -- but I find it helpful to put it somewhere that's easy to access. Plus, a backup copy is always wise for those you-never-know situations.)

In our next exciting episode, we'll talk about some of the more appealing Outlook alternatives -- and how to finish making your move. As always, if you have any thoughts to share on the subject, please do so in the comments.

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