Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why your Outlook rules might be client-only, and how to fix them


By David Gewirtz

A reader recently asked us:

All my rules are coming as (client only) rules and I can't run all of them. The system has turned off some of them for lack of space.
How can I change them into server-based rules?

Let's answer this in two parts. First, let's understand the difference between client and server rules.

Server-based rules

If you run Outlook as your email client and you get your email through an Exchange server, server-based rules are those rules that run on the Exchange server, not on your local computer.

This can be a big win because rules can run even when your computer is off, when Outlook is closed, and can process messages before you download them.

I like these a lot because I have a number of server rules that run to file mailing lists and other expected email, and so, if I'm traveling and want to check my inbox on my iPhone, I don't have to sift through all sorts of other messages -- nor do I have to worry whether I left Outlook open on my desktop when I left.

Some rules can't be run on the server. For example, if you have a rule that requires printing, it can't run on the server. It'll be called (client only).

Client-only rules

In general, client-only rules apply to data that's only on the client. One of the more bizarre client-only limitations is category. Categories live, in general, on the client so if you're attempting to assign a message to a category, it'll suddenly become a client-only rule.

Microsoft lists the following conditions that cause a rule to be client-only:

  • Through the specified account
  • Assigned to category category
  • Uses the form name form
  • With selected properties of documents or forms
  • Sender is in specified Address Book
  • On this machine only

There are also specific rule actions that will force a rule to be client-only:

  • Move it to a folder (see note below)
  • Print it
  • Assign it to the category category
  • Reply using a specific template
  • Flag message for action in a number of days
  • Flag message with a colored flag
  • Play a sound
  • Run a script
  • Start application
  • Mark it as importance
  • Display a specific message in the New Item Alert window
  • Display a Desktop Alert

Now, I have a bunch of server-based rules that move messages to folders. The key here is that if the folder you're moving the message to exists on your PC only, then it becomes a client-only rule.

Some of these (like printing) make sense. Others, like flagging the message, assigning it to a category, or marking importance should really work on the server as well. Hopefully, in time, they will.

Size of rules

A very serious limit that Outlook imposes (and, which, personally I think is ridiculous) is the storage limit for rules is 32K. I've seen this a lot with users and the issue is that you probably need to find better ways to generalize your rules. I hit it myself once when I tried to manage junk mail by listing all of the email addresses of spammers in rules -- but then I moved them to the Junk mail filter and I freed up a ton of space.