Q: In Outlook Express what happens when you "compact all folders"? — Carol
A: The widely used Outlook Express e-mail program from Microsoft uses at its core a database for each of the folders that contain mail.
The individual messages are entries in the database that are handled in the same way a traditional database handles records.
When you delete a message from Outlook Express (even from the Deleted Items folder) all you are actually doing is removing the entry from the index file, which removes it from your view. But all of the information is still actually occupying disk space on your hard drive.
If there are a lot of these "hidden" records in what appears to be a relatively clean installation of Outlook Express, it can actually cause slow performance when working with the various folders.
When you "Compact all folders" you are eliminating all the records that have been marked for deletion, which will generally speed up access to the various folders (databases) and, more importantly, free up valuable disk space.
For those who have never used this maintenance feature in Outlook Express, you can access it by clicking on File, Folder and then on Compact All Folders.
This compacting process can take several minutes (especially if you have never performed it before), and you shouldn’t use your computer until it is finished.
If the error "cannot compact, folder in use" occurs, try closing Outlook Express, waiting for a minute or two, then re-opening and compacting immediately after it opens.
Users of the full version of Outlook will not have this feature because the storage file structure is completely different, and maintenance is handled in a different process.
By default, Outlook Express activates a feature that will "Compact messages in the background." This tells the program to automatically compact files during periods of inactivity.
While this feature sounds like a no-brainer, if you have ever experienced corruption in Outlook Express with no apparent cause, it could have occurred during a bungled attempt of the automatic background procedure.
If anything happens to your computer while the program is compacting the database files, some very undesirable results may occur. So turning off the automatic feature will reduce the number of times that you are exposed to this situation.
If you seem to have long lags when trying to use Outlook Express, especially after a period of inactivity, the automatic compact in the background procedure could also be the culprit.
To turn off this automatic feature, click on Tools, Options, and then on the Maintenance tab at the top. Look for the "Compact messages in the background" checkbox in the "Cleaning Up Messages" section and remove the checkmark.
If you decide to turn off the automatic feature, it will require you to be diligent in performing the "compact all files" procedure on a regular basis or your e-mail program could start to chew up large chunks of hard drive space.
If you use e-mail on a daily basis, I would suggest compacting the folders at least once a month or weekly if you work with large amounts of daily e-mail.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR (620 AM) and the "Tech No Phobia" television show at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays on COX9. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.