Sunday, August 1, 2010

The strange case of Outlook losing notes and requiring passwords


By Joe Dolittle

Reader Mike Flanagan has a couple of troubling questions about missing notes and backup copies of PST files. Here's what he says:

Problem: Notes placed in a Recurring Appointment sometimes disappear.
Explanation: I have recurring meetings about which I take notes. I have at least 3 separate occurrences, on different computers, by different users, of notes literally disappearing from the appointment record. This absolutely is not due to user error.
Second Problem: Outlook asks for a password when trying to open a backup PST file
Explanation: After encountering Problem 1, I resorted to a backup file to retrieve the Calendar item with my notes (that disappeared from my current PST file).
Unfortunately I was unable to open any of several backup PST files because Outlook queried me for a password. I never use passwords for PST files. I tried to guess at any possible one Outlook might have conjured for me, all to no avail.

Mike's clearly a troubled dude. I have some ideas, but I also have more questions than answers. We don't know, for example, what version of Outlook he's running.

More interestingly, he talks about three separate computers where notes are disappearing. But what we don't know is how those computers are connected. Since he's talking about PST files, it's unlikely he's using Exchange.

Now, if he's sharing his Outlook PST file among those users, it's almost guaranteed he's going to lose his notes (and more). Sharing PST files is a recipe for PST corruption.

So then, that's my first theory. He's been sharing his PST files and because of that, the files have become corrupted causing him to lose notes and even to be unable to open the backup files.

A second theory pertains solely to the notes themselves. It's possible to link notes instead of entering them. If you link notes to a location (say a thumb drive), and then remove the drive, the notes will go away.

A third theory is strictly human. There's always the possibility someone's doing this on purpose, randomly deleting things on different computers, setting up passwords, etc. This one's much more doubtful, but never rule out the wrath of a pissed-off employee.

My money, though, is on PST corruption. Even if you're not sharing PST files, it is possible for them to get corrupted. If, for example, Mike's running an old-format PST file and his PST file is exceeding 2GB, the files will become corrupted. He may be seeing corruption in one way in backups and in another for more current files.

Here's what I'd recommend. First, make sure your keep your PST files on your own, local hard drive and never share them.

Then, go into Outlook on each computer and create a new PST file. Here's an article on how to do that. Move all your messages from the old PST files into the new PST file. Backup those old PST files to a media that's not accessible to Outlook, and then remove them from your system. Set the new PST file as your default PST file.