Friday, April 13, 2012

Export from Outlook to Thunderbird

An open mind is like an open road,
a journey waiting to happen
Never would I thought the road I take would lead me so far astray. But that is what is good about an open mind. It will lead you many places, often the place you should be. So when I had a problem to export mail from Outlook to Thunderbird, I never expected to use Outlook Express to solve that
A friend asked me to help find a way for her to take her personal e-mails with her. She didn't want nor have a smartphone or tablet. She just didn't want the hassle. Like many true blue users, they learn something and stick with it. Her idea was to find a way to export the message. She even asked me if she could move them to her Hotmail account.
I realized that where she was going, she may not be able to connect to the Internet. But she would still need access to those e-mails, even only if to read them. So my solution was technically complicated but from the user's standpoint, easy-to-use. PortableApps to the rescue!
If you don't know what Portable Apps is, it is a suite of free or open source Windows applications that have been modified to run off a thumb-drive / USB memory stick. The best thing is, you plug it in and click on the taskbar icon to pop-up a menu that acts like the Start button. It will list the programs installed on the USB drive that you can run with just a click. A right-click and you can add more apps from their library of open-source free software. They range from a screen magnifier to the big boys: LibreOffice, Inkscape, Firefox and Gimp. Just select and the PortableApps system will download and install it automatically.
I installed Thunderbird under the Portable Apps menu and made sure it could run ok. Then I exported the folder she needed from Outlook. Problem is, there is no format that Outlook can export to that can be read by Thunderbird. I tried various extensions that neither installed nor were compatible. I finally was ready to import the entire Inbox and then trim out what she didn't need. Which was a problem because she only needed about 25% of the messages in Outlook to take with her.
After reading the various hints and tips online, a common theme emerged. Thunderbird can import Outlook Express just fine but not Outlook. I fired up Outlook Express to see what I could do and was surprised to find out that it could import from Outlook by folders. So I imported the folders I needed from Outlook to Outlook Express. Once finished and satisfied that the messages were there, I closed Outlook Express and started Thunderbird. I then imported Outlook Express (which had all the folders she needed) and they appeared in Thunderbird, on the thumb-drive.
On Linux, you could coax Wine to run Outlook Express and use it as the middle man.
Roundabout way? Yes. Problem solved? You bet. So don't shy away from a solution that is complicated, if you are going to use it only once. Just do it and make the user happy. And sometimes that's all that matters.

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