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Issue #36: March 27, 2008

Q: I noticed a problem similar to mine in your March 20 response to Becky T.  I use Outlook Express 6 for email and have a problem deleting some emails.  Like her, I’m getting a pile up.  Some messages WILL delete from the Inbox fine; perhaps 1 in 5 doesn’t.  Can you help?

– Bill W.
Fort Walton Beach, FL

A:   Let’s hope so, Bill.  You were only one of many people who use Outlook Express who wrote in with similar mail deleting problems.

There are several bugs in Outlook Express, so before you do anything else, make sure you have all the latest updates and patches installed on your system (which is always a good idea anyway, whenever you’re having a problem).  Also be sure your anti-virus, and virus signatures are all up to date.  I’ve heard that this problem sometimes occurs with certain messages if OE’s preview pane is turned on.  Try turning it off and see if that helps.

If none of the above makes a difference, the cause of the problem is almost surely a corrupted mail storage file.  OE uses files with a .dbx extension store your messages, for example Inbox.dbx.  If you have created other mail folders in OE, each will have its own file.  These files are intentionally hidden, and you won’t find them even by doing a normal file search.  One of the easiest ways to repair a corrupted file is to perform a compaction operation, which forces OE to re-write the file content.  To compact your files, perform the following steps in Outlook Express: Click File->Work Offline (to prevent new messages from arriving).  In your folder list, double-click “Outlook Express” until the list of folders completely disappears.  Click File->Folder->Compact All Folders.  This step might take a little while, so be patient.  If an error occurs, don’t panic.  Just close OE, re-open it, and start again.  When the compaction is complete, click File->Work Offline again to uncheck it.

If the above steps still do not fix your problem, you may have a .dbx file that’s so badly corrupted that it cannot be recovered, and must be deleted.  Unfortunately, you will lose all your old e-mails, so save this as a last resort.  The trick is finding the files.  OE knows their location, and you’ll find it by clicking Tools->Options.  In the dialog, select the Maintenance tab, and click on “Store Folder…”  Copy the ENTIRE string to the windows clipboard, and can paste it into the address bar of a File Explorer window, and it will take you directly to the hidden location of these files.  You can copy them, back them up, or delete them.  Outlook will re-create Inbox.dbx automatically next time it runs.

Microsoft has a nice discussion on corrupted .dbx files (including illustrations of the above steps) that you can view at Caution!  A lot of what’s in there is in Geek-speak.  Read it at your own peril!

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