Outlook 2003 ate my mail

Yesterday, my Outlook 2003 hit the 2 GB limit on its PST file, and almost caused me to lose some important email.

To make me feel better, I’m describing the circumstances here. While I doubt anyone else affected will read this before suffering the same fate, they may at least gain some comfort after the fact from knowing they are not alone…

Anyway, the scenario goes like this. Outlook 2003 has a documented 2 GB limit on PST files (i.e. your Inbox and direct sub-folders). Unlike earlier versions of Outlook, which would happily corrupt your PST file with no warning if you exceeded the 2 GB limit, Outlook 2003 now traps this and (eventually) displays an error message saying the file is full.

There are two side effects that are not so obvious. The first is relatively benign: any messages in your outbox remain there after successful transmission, because there was no room to move them to Sent Items. Thus, you mistakenly think they haven’t been sent for some reason and waste time trying to send them again; the recipient often ends up with multiple copies.

The more serious bug, and the one that really annoyed me, is that when Outlook downloads new messages, it realises it has nowhere to store them … and just throws them away. My account is configured to leave messages on the mail server for two days after download, but I expect most users stay with the default account settings, which delete messages as soon as they are downloaded. Such users would likely not even be aware that they had lost mail, since it is irretrievably gone, with no record that it even existed. Certainly, Outlook gives no indication that anything is amiss.

Because this happened to my wife a couple of months ago, I knew to check my mail server’s webmail interface for lost messages, and sure enough, there were several sitting there. When I freed up space on Outlook and downloaded my mail again, it happily ignored those messages, since it considered them already fetched, even though it had discarded them at the time.

Unfortunately, I forgot to check my secondary account’s webmail interface as well, so only became aware of yet more missed messages when someone followed up to see why I hadn’t responded.

Come on Microsoft, how hard would it have been to do this right??

(I’d upgrade to 2007, but I can’t stand the new ribbon strip.)