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Issue #402: Apr 5–11, 2015

Greetings, Fellow Geeks, and welcome to – wow, April? Really? Gosh the year is just flying by. I trust everyone survived April Fools’ Day, and that both your enemies and loved ones are still licking their wounds from the epic pranks you pulled on them.

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Q: I need a program that will allow me to open and read old message files (.pst). I fear that without your help I will install a useless program or worse, malware. Please don’t get too technical in your response–I’m a 71-year-old grandmother with limited computer know-how and even more limited patience. These files are in effect baby albums as my daughters emailed about my grandkids’ early activities, so I would genuinely appreciate your advice.

– Name and city withheld by request

A: I think you already have everything you need to do what you want to do. The .pst files in question are Microsoft Outlook Personal Storage Folders. In other words, they contain, as you said, e-mail messages – specifically, ones that were downloaded from a mail server and stored on your local computer. It is Outlook itself that can open and read these files.

The system description that you provided with your question said that you have “Microsoft Office Standard 2007 Operating System installed.” Well, “Office Standard 2007” isn’t an Operating System; that would be some flavor of Microsoft Windows. Microsoft Office it is actually the name of a suite of office automation software, and Office Standard 2007 just happens to contain Outlook. So, if you look on your Start menu, you should find Outlook already on your system, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you are already using it as your main e-mail software.

Opening .pst files in Outlook is not like opening files in other applications, and I would imagine that’s what’s troubling you. Usually, when you run Outlook the appropriate .pst file is automatically opened and its contents show up in the navigation tree on the left side of the Outlook window. But Outlook is capable of opening and displaying more than one .pst file at a time. One thing though, even though all .pst files have the same extension, they are not all the same. (Thanks, Bill! I guess it was too much to expect you to change the file extension when the file format changed?) So, it will be up to you, mystery Gramma, to know whether the .pst files you are dealing with were created using Outlook 97-2002, or 2003 and later.

To open a .pst, click Outlook 2007’s “File” menu, and select “Data File Management”. Click the “Add” button, then choose the type of .pst you are adding. (Thanks again, Bill! Is there some compelling reason why Outlook can’t automatically detect the file type?) Navigate to the location of the .pst file that you want to add, highlight it, and click “OK”. You’ll have the option of giving the file a custom name, but it’s perfectly fine to accept the default name. Click “OK” again, then click “Close”. Your .pst file is now displayed in the folder list, in the afore-mentioned tree control, hopefully, along with those precious pictures you’re after. Good luck, and happy computing!

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