Moving Outlook to a new system/profile/rebuild – OST

3d human carry a big tool in handsHere is a problem discovered by a fellow technician. He was in the process of rebuilding a laptop after a BSOD. So he performed an offline backup of everything on the hard drive, before rebuilding the operating system. He had a list of all the necessary passwords, keys, etc., so he thought that he was safe…

However, when he got to reinstalling and setting up Outlook he encountered a problem. The OST file is not portable. When Outlook is setup to use an Exchange server, there is an option to cache the data on the local computer, and thus creates an OST file. Typically, in a standard environment, there is no problem – just delete the OST file and reconnect to the Exchange server – the OST will automatically recreate and you’re all set. However here was the unique situation of this setup:

The laptop was part of a different domain as he was an outside consultant for the company. He did have a corporate Exchange account on his laptop, but since he was assigned to this client, he was no longer using his laptop to connect to the Exchange server for whatever reason, instead he simply used Outlook Web Access. However, at the client site, he did have a POP3 e-mail account, which was setup to put it’s mail inside his Exchange Personal Folder within outlook. No problem here, pretty standard to use Exchange and then POP an alternate account and have it all dump into the same inbox. Even though he was no longer connected to the Exchange server, everything was dumping the OST file. When the POP would occur it would delete the files off the mail server (again, nothing new)…

However, if you haven’t already figured it out, the only place the e-mail lived was in the OST. (Compare that to a straight POP profile in Outlook without Exchange, which places mail in a PST file.) Yet, the OST is not portable. So it isn’t something you can simply mount in a new profile/build/rebuild/reprofile/whatever of Outlook. The results was an orphaned OST file which couldn’t be connected, and about two years of lost POP mail. Had he periodically connected to the Exchange server via his laptop (VPN or RPC-HTTPS), it would have synced the POP mail to the Exchange server so the OST could be rebuilt. But in this case, if you connected to the Exchange server, the OST would have rebuilt from the last point it was synced – plus any new Exchange only e-mail. Thus all POP mail was lost.

Now there are tools available on the internet to recover an OST file which pretty much work as promised. However the only one which actually work are around $300, or you can pay someone online about $100 and they basically run that tool on your file for you. From experience, the tools which are less than $300 only do a partial job, not sure why, but I guess you get what you pay for.

Of course, the best thing is to know what you’re getting into. One good way to get around this would have been (before you rebuilt the computer) to create a new PST file and then manually move all the contents of the OST file to the PST file within the Outlook profile the OST is associated with.

Good luck!

Rebuilding a computer

happy laptopOkay, here is a simple one that most people know, but was performed by someone in my office this week. When backing up a computer before you rebuild it (format the hard drive, replace the hard drive, whatever), be sure to perform a reliable backup of the system. At a minimum, reboot the computer and run NTBackup which is included in Windows XP – you will need to install it from the CD if you have Home Edition, but it is still available. Other tools can be more intuitive or faster, but NT backup really does a good job.

However what our technician did was a simple Windows file copy from drive C:\ to a USB drive. The problem is that this does not create a reliable backup and any errors along the way can result in a less-than-complete backup. The primary three reasons this does not work as expected is that Windows file copy cannot:

  • Backup open files
  • Backup some protected windows files
  • Backup files you don’t have access to

So when it comes time to restore, you may not get everything back.

While on the topic, a couple of things you’ll want to make sure you have/document before you rebuild a computer, although this is not all-inclusive:

  • All software media/download to reinstall your application (Windows, Office, Adobe applications, etc)
  • All software license keys or serial numbers
  • Drivers for your particular hardware saved to a CD-ROM or other accessible media
  • Settings and passwords for your e-mail client (Outlook) or other programs
  • A list of what is on your computer (software/hardware) so you know what you’ll need to put back on the system
  • The name of the computer and domain or workgroup
  • The name of local users on the computer (exact name, spelling and casing) and who is a member of the administrators group
  • Check for Encrypted File System (EFS) and mitigate if necessary

Good luck!

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