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Escape from Outlook 2011!

Oh, the sacrifices I make for our TidBITS readership. If I’d known what I was getting myself into, I would never have adopted Microsoft Outlook, from Office 2011, in order to review it (see “The Outlook for Microsoft Outlook,” 8 October 2010). Things got worse and worse as I continued to try to use the program. In addition to there being no formatting of quoting levels (Paste As Quotation, Increase Quote Level) there turned out to be no Resend command (so I couldn’t take an existing reply and send it again, to someone else or to the same person with the original reply quoted). For these and many other reasons, some of them appearing in the review, Outlook was turning out to be a horror. For the way I use mail, it was simply untenable.

So I decided to bite the bullet and migrate myself yet again into some other mail application. That’s when I discovered that Outlook 2011 lacks something else I require from any mail program—a way of exporting my mailboxes. You can save all your mail as a single .olm file, but no other application can read it, and in any case my attempt to do that failed (Outlook broke down in the middle of the operation). You can drag individual messages to the Finder, but this results in individual .eml files, which most other mail programs can’t import. What I needed was a way to export to “mbox” files, a more-or-less universal standard representing a mailbox and all its messages.

After some hours of banging around fruitlessly, I discovered that I already had the perfect mbox creation tool at hand. Not only that, but this was a tool that could reach right into Outlook 2011, grab all my selected messages, and assemble them into mbox files that Mail can import. That tool is EagleFiler, which I reviewed several months ago in “EagleFiler Turns a Finder Folder Into a Snippet Keeper” (24 February 2010).

As I said in my review, I was already using EagleFiler to slough off unneeded mail folders from Entourage. Using a mail client as a database over the long term has always seemed to me a confusion of categories in any case; certainly there needs to be fast searching of a small set of current or frequently needed messages from within the mail client, but in general it’s perfectly fine for me to archive most of my saved backlog to an application that really knows how to search the heck out of mail messages, and that’s exactly what EagleFiler knows how to do.

But would EagleFiler know how to talk to Outlook 2011? It turned out that developer Michael Tsai was right on top of things. He’s working on a beta version (1.5) that boasts a number of improvements, including better feedback in the main window when EagleFiler is busy indexing, more sprightly navigation and rearrangement of folders, indexing of email attachments, and much more. Most important, this version has the power to import from Outlook.

So, with the new version of EagleFiler in hand, I selected all my messages in Outlook and told EagleFiler to import them by pressing the F1 key, right there in Outlook. In less time than it took to make myself a fresh cup of cappuccino with my handy-dandy Pavoni Napolitana, EagleFiler had grabbed all my mail messages and assembled them into mbox files, each file having the name of the Outlook mailbox or mail “folder” from which its messages came. (The files do not have a literal .mbox file extension, but they are mbox files nonetheless.)

I tested a few of the resulting files by having Mail import them, and it worked perfectly. This, in case you’ve never tried it, is a two-step process. In Mail, you choose File > Import Mailboxes. This brings up a dialog where you specify the mailbox source type; in this instance, I selected the last option, “Files in mbox format.” This in turn summons an Open dialog in which I could select the mbox files created by EagleFiler and import them. Mail creates an Import folder and puts the imported messages into mailboxes within it, named after the mbox files on which they are based; you can move these mailboxes elsewhere in Mail’s On My Mac collection, but for now I’m just leaving them where they are.

I also took this opportunity to prune my email, by which I mean that I imported only a few mailboxes into Mail; the rest I simply left in the highly competent care of EagleFiler. If I discover later that I need the contents of a further mailbox accessible from within Mail, I can always import it then.

And that’s the end of the story. I have now migrated myself completely out of Microsoft Outlook and into Apple Mail. I’m not crazy about Mail as a long-term solution, but it has all the basic features I need, it’s sufficiently scriptable with AppleScript for my workflow purposes, and—most important—if I later decide to migrate out of it, I know that EagleFiler will be there to help me.

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