Save emails to File System

 

I know how this all works:  you keep all of your emails, old and new, in Outlook. You have created a number of folders: per customer, per product etc, and you drag and drop your emails to their proper places. It all looks nice and tidy.  That’s what I was doing until I bought my first smart mobile phone. Then, I realised that this was all wrong.

You probably think: “what does a mobile phone have to do with it”? Well it does, and it tells you that this is wrong from the moment you start using it. Actually from the moment you configure the phone to get access to your emails. The first thing it does is to synchronise emails from Outlook with your phone.  And not only emails but folders as well. It will bring all your folders per customer, per product etc across. In my case it brought hundreds of folders that I have created over years. Every folder gets its own tab on the phone and you can now scroll through tabs for hours.

This was not exactly the way I expected the emails on the mobile to look and work. I wanted access to my Inbox, Sent Items and that was all. For old emails that are archived in Outlook I can wait to come to my computer and look for them there.

You can see right away that something is wrong but what and who to blame? The first thought is that it is the mobile phone that is not clever enough to bring only what I want. Then Outlook that sends everything. So is it Microsoft to blame? At the end I have realised that the only one that should be blamed is me.  I got it all wrong.  I never thought of it but now I realised that I have used the Outlook in the wrong way from the beginning.  

Outlook is a great tool for sending and receiving emails. And that’s where this all should stop: just send and receive emails. Archiving, well this is a different problem and it is up to some other piece of software to solve.  Without the old emails and hundreds of folders, the Outlook becomes clean and tidy. All what other ”extensions of the Outlook”, that my mobile email in fact is, will have to do is to access the emails from the Inbox and Sent Items. And this is all what I need.

So the chase is now for the s/w that will keep my old emails in one place.  I must tell you that although software technology is my vocation, I hate buying various little software products to do bits and pieces on my system. I want to use what is already there as there are too many tools anyway.  So what is there that I can use?

The File System is the obvious choice.  And that’s where I have started experimenting. Here is what I have found:

  • You can easily drag and drop an email to a File System folder the same as to the Outlook folder.
  • You can drag and drop the email back to Outlook if you want
  • The email is saved as MSG file. When you double click on it, it opens the email in the Outlook and you can reply to it, forward etc. You don’t use any of the functionality.
  • As emails are in the File System you can copy them, move across, backup etc. All good file system tools are at your disposal.
  • Emails can be accessed by others on the network. The usual File System permissions apply.

This was enough to me to make a big switch. I have decided to bite the bullet and move all my emails to the File System.  I have done the following:

  • Created the same folder structure as I had in the Outlook
  • Dragged and dropped all my emails, one folder at a time
  • The next move was the brave one: I have erased all my old emails from the Outlook

I have been using this for couple of months now. So what is the verdict? First some things that could have been better:

When you drag and drop an email today, it gets saved with today’s date regardless of when the email was actually received. This doesn’t cause problems in my day–to-day use but guess what happened with thousands of emails that I initially moved from the Outlook to the File System? As each of them creates a file, all the files had the same creation date. And this is what you see when you list the files later. No way to see date received unless you open the file to see what is in the email.

The next problem is that the file name is made from the email’s subject. So what happens when you exchange back and forth a number of emails with your client and all of them have the same subject? When you move the first one it gets saved as a file – no problem. When you move the next one, the File System finds that the file with the same name already exists and asks you whether you want to replace the old one. That’s the drag! You have to change the name of the old file by adding “_1” or similar to allow the two emails with the same subject to be stored.

I am aware that a small script in Outlook can change things for the better. Maybe to add email received date at the end of the subject and make it unique so that it can be saved without any hassle.  To put received data to some of the file fields or email address to Author’s field, for instance. This would make the listing of emails more useful.   I am not giving you any solution for that here. I may at some point do a bit of research on the Internet and dig out something.

The point of all of this is that I have managed to put my emailing processing on its feet. The outlook is now a tool to receive and send email. My Inbox contains only emails from tasks that I currently work with.  Once the task or its part is done, I move emails to the File System storage.  My mobile phone can access only my current emails and that’s exactly what I needed. Sometimes it takes too long to open your eyes and see things for what they really are.  A little mobile phone made me understand that.

Slava Krnjetin Slava Krnjetin - I have graduated Mathematics and then turned to IT and never looked back. I have now over 25 years of experience in IT industry doing consulting and development. It has always been my passion to follow the new IT trends and tools as they evolved over years.

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