My computer recently crashed at work, which always makes for a very bad day. Thankfully, I had backups of everything I needed. Getting back on my feet should have been a matter of simply restoring everything once I had a new machine in-hand.
Everything went smoothly when restoring the backups to the new machine except restoring my local Outlook data. I was running Office 2011 and hadn’t created an archive. I assumed restoring the old data would just be a matter of setting the active identity of Outlook to the backup of the old computer’s Outlook identity using the Microsoft Database Utility. However, the tool kept error-ing, saying the old identity was corrupt.
From what I could tell, my company’s IT department had installed a newer patch version of Office 2011 than the one I had on the old machine and the identity structure was no longer completely compatible. It was also possible that my previous Office identity was indeed corrupt. Either way, I thought I had completely lost all of my saved email.
However, I was able to pull the old email backup into the new Outlook identity by hand. Here’s how I did it.
Disclaimer: The following steps are not for the faint of heart. You could completely break your Office installation and/or lose data if you aren’t careful or don’t understand what you are doing. I take no responsibility if this doesn’t work well for you. Proceed with caution.
All I needed to do was:
- Create a new identity (happens automatically when you first start Outlook).
- Find the new identity’s directory under the Microsoft User Data directory in the Documents folder.
- Find the old identity’s directory under the Microsoft User Data directory in the backup directory.
- Make a new backup of the new identity’s directory just in case something goes sideways.
- Copy all of the email-related directories from the old identity’s directory to the new identity’s directory, replacing the existing versions of those directories.
- Open Outlook and verify that all of the old email messages are there.
I had to iterate on this process a few times, restoring from the new identity backup and excluding directories that appeared to cause Outlook to crash from those I copied to the new identity, until the email backup loaded in Outlook. In my situation, the directories related to email attachments were causing Outlook to crash, so I had to settle with not copying those directories over and live with the fact that old attachments were lost.
This is not an ideal solution and a pretty brute-force approach for recovering data, but it got 90% of what I needed accomplished in less than 30 minutes. That is certainly better than the alternative of losing all of my email simply because I didn’t export an archive.