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1. Don't open attachments.
Most computer infections are the result of the user opening email attachments. The attachment usually contains a virus or worm or trojan that infects the system when it is opened.

Because of this tendency of attachments to infect, Microsoft has now set OE to block all attachments. See these articles for explanations:

Cannot Open E-Mail Attachments in Outlook Express After You Install SP1

OLEXP Using Virus Protection Features in Outlook Express 6 (Q291387)

Help avoid computer viruses that spread through e-mail
Managing e-mail attachments in Outlook and Outlook Express
Note that Microsoft does not send security patches in email. See this article: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/news/patch_hoax.asp

If you choose to adjust OE to allow attachments, make sure you save the attachment to disk first and then scan it with your antivirus software.

The most significant thing you can do to prevent such infections, is to educate yourself on what attachments may constitute a threat to your system, and never open any such attachments, no matter who they are from.
2. Turn off Background Compaction.
(Note that with WinXP SP2, this feature is already disabled.)
When a message is deleted, moved or marked as read in an OE message file (dbx), then wasted space is generated in that file, and the folder must be compacted to remove that wasted space. By default, OE turns on a feature under Tools | Options | Maintenance called "background compaction", which turns itself on if the folders in your message store get too much wasted space.

This feature uses 100% CPU time and slows down your system, while it is active, particularly if you have a sizeable message store. If the process is somewhat interrupted, then the entire message store can become corrupt.

To prevent such corruption, turn off background compaction under Tools | Options | Maintenance for each Identity you have, and then compact manually and frequently using File | Folder | Compact all.

This will make OE more stable.

In XPSP2, the registry key (HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Identities\{GUID}\Software\Microsoft\Outlook Express\5.0 where GUID represents the Identity Number) has a new value ("Compact Check Count") that is incremented with each closing of OE. When OE is closed and this value reaches 100, then the user is prompted to compact all the folders. Only if the user agrees to compact such does the "Compact Check Count" get reset to zero. Otherwise the user is continuously prompted until they agree to compact. However, if this occurs during a machine shutdown, the shutdown can interrupt the compact process and result in message loss.

Consequently, if prompted to compact, then the user should agree to the compaction and leave the computer alone until it is finished.

Alternatively, get OETool, where I added a button that will compact all folders and reset the "Compact Check Count" value to zero upon doing so.

UPDATE: On 12/12/2006, Microsoft released a cumulative security patch for Outlook Express (923694). For some details see Microsoft Security Bulletin MS06-076.

This update does the following:
a. If a user compacts the folders manually using File | Folder | Compact all, then the Compact Check Count in the registry is now reset to zero.

b. When OE does the "Compact All" now (whether initiated by the user or due to the 100 closings prompt), OE makes a copy of the OE message store and places it into the recycle bin. The OE folders are given the file extension of "bak". If the compaction fails and results in corruption of the message store, then the user should be able to rename the "bak" back to "dbx" and copy it back into the OE message store location to restore the backed up file and the lost messages.

More information can be found at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/918069 . See the "Note" under "Resolution" for the pertinent issues.
3. Turn off email scanning in your antivirus software.
Antivirus software invades the Outlook Express program to try and intercept (incoming and, in some cases, outgoing) messages that might contain virus. The problem with this approach is that the antivirus software can trigger the destruction of an entire message folder or the entire message store, when it attempts to remove a message containing a potential virus.

Because of the fragility of the OE message store structure and its propensity for destruction, this applies to just about any antivirus program that touches the OE message store. So its best to follow these instructions regardless of what antivirus program you use. This suggestion also extends to anti-spamware programs that interfere with the operations of OE. Such software should be disabled with respect to OE mail, or uninstalled.

To prevent the possibility of such destruction occuring, turn off email scanning in your antivirus software. You will still be protected against infection. If you attempt to open a message attachment containing a potential virus, then your antivirus software will recognize that your are attempting to infect your system, and will block you from doing so.

The best practice on the user's part is to save an attachment to disk and then scan it with the antivirus software prior to opening it. Messages opened themselves (if you have the latest security updates from Windows Update) will not infect your system -- only attachments. You do not need additional email scanning on top of your system being continuosly scanned by antivirus software, so turn off email scanning to prevent destruction of your message store.

From a newsgroup post by Frank Saunders, MS-MVP:
From http://service1.symantec.com/SUPPORT/nav.nsf/df0a595864594c86852567ac0063608c/65434372961d321d8825687f000003f8?OpenDocument&src=tr&Highlight=0,email,protection

Disabling email protection does not leave you vulnerable to viruses and malicious software in email. It is a separate layer of protection in addition to Auto-Protect. Auto-Protect scans any incoming files, including email, as they are saved to your hard drive. As long as you keep your virus definitions up to date with LiveUpdate, and keep Auto-Protect enabled and set to scan files as they are created or downloaded, your system is fully protected.

See also http://service1.symantec.com/SUPPORT/nav.nsf/d4578f66d8f00a0188256d4e006aaa94/4ba5fc8ef939c44c88256c7500723cf0?OpenDocument&src=bar_sch_nam

WINDOWS MAIL in VISTA: People are experiencing huge problems with Windows Mail in Vista due to antivirus software.

In most cases, it is sufficient to turn off email scanning (incoming and outgoing) and then remove your Email account, close and reopen Windows Mail, and then add your email account back again. However, in some circumstances, it is necessary to uninstall the antivirus software completely, as it is not compatible with Windows Mail (Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro for instance are examples of this). If you encounter compatibility problems when email scanning is disabled, then find another antivirus program. There are plenty out there that do not impair the functionality of Windows Mail.

Also, if you have installed Vista Service Pack 1, then your system may crash if email scanning is enabled. See http://support.microsoft.com/KB/951805

After turning off email scanning, remove your mail accounts, then close and reopen OE or WinMail, and then add your accounts back again. This will "fix" any changes that the antivirus software made to the account settings.  Removing the mail account will not remove any messages.
4. Recovering lost messages.
The most significant contributors to lost messages are described in points 2 and 3 above. Turn these options off to help prevent message store corruption. The Outlook Express dbx file structure is notorious for corruption even without antivirus software, so the best practice is to be preventive and back up your message store frequently.

If you do lose your messages, try the following:
a. Search for *.db* (note that in Windows 2000 and XP the dbx files are hidden, so you first need to go Tools | Folder Options in WinExplorer and enable showing hidden files and folders. Then when searching, choose the Advanced Search and enable searching for hidden files. If you find any .dbx or .dbt files, then you can try using the method on this page (www.oehelp.com/backup.aspx#imp1) to attempt to reincorporate the files into the message store (rename the dbt files to dbx first).

b. You can try using my DBXpress program to attempt to recover the lost messages. DBXpress also has the exclusive capability of reading directly from the disk and bypassing the file system.

c. If you have upgraded your version of IE and OE or your OS version, and all your messages are lost, then see this article (note that the technique in the article does not only apply to the issue addressed in the article title):
OLEXP: Mail Folders, Address Book, and E-mail Messages Are Missing After You Upgrade to Microsoft Windows XP http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;313055

d. If File | Import | Messages does not work, ignore the error message, which is erroneous in itself, and try one of the following techniques to get your messages back:
1) Right click on each dbx file or a selection of them and go to Properties and clear the read only attribute of the files. Then try File | Import | Messages again.
b. Import the dbx files individually. See this page for how to do that: http://www.oehelp.com/backup.aspx#imp1 or get my new OEX program, which you can use to import messages from individual dbx files, if they are not corrupt.
c. As a last resort use DBXpress.
See also: http://www.insideoe.com/problems/bugs.htm#mailgone
5. How does one reinstall IE and OE?
This article seems to work for other OSs than just XP:

How to Reinstall or Repair Internet Explorer and Outlook Express

This method does not apparently work in XPSP2.
6. How does one backup and restore or transfer OE messages and settings?
Given the above mentioned fragility of the OE message store and its susceptibility to corruption, it is essential that one backs up important messages.

To manually backup the message store and settings see http://www.insideoe.com/backup/index.htm and http://www.oehelp.com/backup.aspx.

MS-MVP David Guess's free OEBackup program, OEQB, is also available here: http://www.oehelp.com/OEBackup/Default.aspx

The Outlook Express message store is extremely susceptible to corruption. It is very important to backup the message store on a regular basis to prevent the loss of data and settings. I have updated my OETool program recently to work in conjunction with David Guess's OEQB, so the user can now backup the entire message store and settings with a single button click. See http://www.oehelp.com/OETool/Default.aspx for details. Both OETool and OEQB are free.
7. Outlook Express won't start.
This is usually due to a conflict between what is recorded in the registry and what is in the message store. Often, one can fix this problem by deleting folders.dbx.

If that doesn't work, then try moving all the dbx files to another directory and see if that fixes it.

Alternatively, see these articles and also point 4 above:
http://www.insideoe.com/problems/performance.htm#nostart http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q245/4/19.asp
8. Installation issues.
Most of the problems with a faulty installation are due to other programs running during the install and interfering with the updating of necessary files. Antivirus software is notorious for this. To minimize such interference, in Win98, WinMe, and WinXP go to Start | Run and type msconfig and disable all startup items and non Microsoft services. Then reboot. Then proceed with the installation. Startup items can then be re-enabled.
For additional info see:
Win98: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;281965&Product=w98 WinXP: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;310560&Product=winxp
Since Win2000 does not have msconfig, one has to manually go to this registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. You can export this key and then delete all values under it. Then disable all antivirus services under Computer Management | Services and then reboot. Then install. After the installation you can import the key back into the registry to restore the values and re-enable the services.
9. Screening unwanted email and Spam.
Everybody gets unwanted email these days. Much of this email is either trying to sell you something you probably don't want or else is trying to infect you with a virus via an email attachment.

What can you do?
a. Never open an attachment. First save an attachment to disk and then scan it with your antivirus software to ensure it is not infected (make sure your antivirus software definitions are up to date). If the attachment is from someone you don't know, don't even bother opening it. Its not worth it. See also point 1 above.

b. Screen email. Disable the Preview Pane (you can put a button on the toolbar to turn this on and off). Then go to View | Columns and enable most of the headers. That way you can scan the headers and pick out the various obvious unwanted mail. Once you find messages that you don't want to open, select the headers of those messages without opening the messages and perform a Shift-Delete to permanently remove them from the folder. Once they are removed, they will no longer be accessible, so don't do this on messages you might wish to keep.

c. On messages left that might be worth opening, go to Tools | Options | Read and check the box that says "read all messages in plain text" (available only with IE6 SP1 or WinXP SP1 and higher). Reading in plain text prevents any returns to the spammer's server, so your email address cannot be validated in that fashion. In addition, it prevents malformed or malicious HTML code from executing. If you find the message is worth viewing as HTML, then you can go back to Tools | Options | Read and uncheck the option to read in plain text only and then reopen the message to view it as HTML (note that you can put this button on a toolbar with OETool (www.oehelp.com/OETool/). You can also use OETool to view the message details without having to open the message. You can also use the "Compact Current Folder" button after deleting to shrink the file size. My new OEX program will also allow the message source to be screened without actually opening the message.

d. If you get unwanted email repeatedly from the same source, you can set up message rules to block out some of these messages. See the help file in OE and also http://www.insideoe.com/tips/rules.htm and http://www.mindspring.com/~oe_oh/message_rules.htm.

e. If you find a message that is spam and that offends you or is deceptive, go to Message | Forward as attachment and send it to spam@ftc.gov . The US Federal Trade Comission is launching a major crackdown on deceptive and offensive spam. Visit their site at www.ftc.gov/spam for more info.
10. Messages appear blank or OE rendering of messages is not functioning correctly.
There is currently a great deal of spy and other malware that infects computers. Precautions need to be taken to guard against such and to repair IE and OE after such infections. Blank messages in OE are a good indication of a spyware infection.

From a post by Frank Saunders, MS-MVP:
Several possible causes and therefore several possible fixes:
1. Go to Start | Run and type regsvr32 inetcomm.dll and press "Enter"
2. Go to Tools | Options | Read | Fonts and set Western (ISO) as the default.
3. Clear Temporary Internet Files and the Temp folder.
4. Turn off email scanning in your anti-virus.
5. Someone else reported that re-installing OE using method 2 in this article fixed the problem:
How to Reinstall or Repair Internet Explorer and Outlook Express in Windows XP
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=318378 Method 2 works on earlier versions of Windows.
6. Eliminate any scumware.
See Dealing with Unwanted Spyware, Parasites, Toolbars and Search Engines
especially http://mvps.org/winhelp2002/unwanted.htm#Coolwebsearch

Note that AdAware and SpyBot S and D will each catch some things the other won't. Also, each needs to be updated before every use, even when just downloaded. There's also a lot more to do than just those two programs. CWShredder is also available here: http://www.kellys-korner-xp.com/regs_edits/cwshredder.zip
**Post your HijackThis log to http://forums.spywareinfo.com/ or the Spyware forum at http://forum.aumha.org/ for expert analysis, not here.**
Alternative download pages for Ad-Aware, Spybot, HijackThis and CWShredder may be found on this page: http://aumha.org/a/parasite.htm.
11. Issues with WinXP SP2.
See also section 2 above dealing with background compaction changes in XP SP2.

For general information on WinXP SP2 see:
Windows XP Service Pack 2 Resources for IT Professionals

835935 - Release notes for Windows XP Service Pack 2

Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2Part 1 Introduction

842242 - Some programs seem to stop working after you install Windows XP Service Pack 2

884130 - Programs that may behave differently in Windows XP Service Pack 2
For Internet Explorer changes with SP2 see:
Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2: Part 5: Enhanced Browsing Security

883256 - How to manage Internet Explorer add-ons in Windows XP Service Pack 2
For Outlook Express changes with SP2 see:
Use the New Security Improvements in Outlook Express

Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 Part 4: Email Handling

Microsoft Outlook Express and Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2: Several Problems or Superior Protection?
12. Cannot print from OE.
If you can print from IE, but you receive the error message:

Line: 1344
Char: 1
Error: Unspecified error
Code: 0
URL: res//C:\windows\system32\shdoclc.dll/preview.dlg

when trying to print from OE, go to Start | Run and type
regsvr32 ole32.dll

If you get the message that the registration was successful, then you should be able to print from OE then.

If you still cannot print from OE then see these articles:
Cannot Print from Internet Explorer

Error Message When You Print from Internet Explorer: Printing Error: The Printer Cannot Be Found

Error Message When You Attempt to Print a Web Page: An Error Has Occurred in the Script on This Page

13. Microsoft Outlook updates change the default mail handler to Microsoft Outlook.
If you are prompted to install an update to Microsoft Outlook 2003 (such as updated junk mail filters) from Microsoft Update (or have your system set to automatically update), and if you have Microsoft Outlook 2003 installed, then when the update is installed, Microsoft Outlook is set as the default mail client, regardless of the previously set default mail client. This change is accomplished via the update changing the default registry value to "Outlook" under this registry key:


If you allow the installation of such updates, it is not possible to prevent the change in the default mail client from the user's previously set value to Microsoft Outlook. Consequently, for Outlook Express (or other mail user agents) users who have Microsoft Outlook installed, but who have Outlook Express (or another program) set as their default mail client, that client will be changed to Microsoft Outlook after the installation.

There are two ways to workaround this issue:
1. Uninstall Microsoft Outlook 2003 via Control Panel | Add / Remove Programs. Select Microsoft Office and then click the change button and remove Microsoft Outlook. (Then do #2 below once.) That way you will not be subject to this issue occuring every single time a Microsoft Outlook update occurs.

2. Open Internet Explorer and go to Tools | Internet Options | Programs (or go to Control Panel | Internet Options | Programs) and change the default program to Outlook Express (or whatever your mail user agent program was prior to the update). That will change the registry key value back to what it was before. If that does not reset the default mail handler to the prior one, then you can also go to Start | Programs (or Control Panel | Add / Remove Programs) | Set Program Access and Defaults and then restore the default mail handler there. For Outlook Express, also see here: www.oehelp.com/oedef.aspx

Some may also need to follow the steps in this article:

"Send To" and E-mail Links Do Not Work Using Outlook Express as Default

If Microsoft Outlook is still installed and updates are still permitted to be installed, the user will continue to have to perform this step after each update.

14. How to restore unsent message functionality
The installation of some Outlook Express Patches prevent saved unsent message eml files from being opened as unsent messages. Instead, they open as sent messages and cannot be resent.

If the latest security updates for Outlook Express are installed, then the unsent message functionality is restored, but only if the user does the following:
a) Create the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\FeatureControl\FEATURE_HONOR_XUNSENT_IN_FILE
b) Inside of that, create a DWORD value called msimn.exe, set its value to 1

More details will be made available as they become known. See also Tom Koch's website at http://www.insideoe.com/#kb918651 for details and a simple registry file that can enable the feature again.

15. Internet Explorer 9 breaks Windows Mail functionality FIXED!
Windows Mail relies on functions provided by Internet Explorer for many of its features. Internet Explorer 9, which is installed automatically in Windows Vista via Windows Update, changes some of those functions so that Windows Mail features are adversely impacted and no longer work properly. Users see the following impairments:
a. The default message viewing font is no longer what is specified in Windows Mail via Tools | Options | Read | Fonts (for instance, the user may have Arial selected but with IE 9 installed sees Times New Roman instead).

b. Messages which include attachments no longer indicate they have attachments and the attachments cannot be saved (no paperclip indicator is present and File | Save Attachments is disabled).

c. Messages which have linked images embedded in them no longer display the yellow information bar to enable showing the images.

Uninstalling IE 9 rectifies these problems. Workarounds also exist to overcome some of these bugs:
a. For the font specification issue, one can go to Tools | Internet Options | Fonts in IE 9 and then change the default font there and then the default font in Windows Mail will be that font. One can also use MS-MVP Grzegorz Niemirowski's OE Power Tool (http://www.grzegorz.net/oe/oept.php) to create a custom css file and dictate the proper font that way.

b. For the attachments issue, if the user goes to Tools | Options | Read and checks the option to read messages in plain text only, then after reopening the message one can again see the paperclip and save the attachments. Or one can open the message in a separate message window, rather than reading via the preview pane window, and then one is able to save the attachments from the attachment toolbar (but not from File | Save Attachments).

c. For the infobar issue, if one opens the message in a separate window, then the info bar will appear again. One could also go to Tools | Options | Security and uncheck the option to block linked images, but that would then reopen the user up to spam, so it is not advised.

Microsoft has been largely unresponsive to MVP requests for fixes to these bugs, so the user is stuck with either employing the workarounds or just uninstalling IE 9.
To uninstall IE 9 go to Control Panel | Programs and Features and click on View Installed Updates on the left. Then find Windows Internet Explorer 9 and uninstall it, and it will then revert to IE 8 and the issue will be resolved (see also http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/how-do-i-install-or-uninstall-internet-explorer-9).

However, the computer will continue to try and install IE 9, since Windows Update forces it, so go to Start | Programs | Windows Update and manually check for updates. When it says there are updates, click on the Custom and not Express configuration choice and then right click on the IE 9 option and choose to Hide the update. Then see if it will prevent IE 9 installation the next time Windows does its updating.

UPDATE: The IE 9 security patch from October 11, 2011 seems to fix these issues. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2586448.

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Copyright 1999 - 2012 Stephen L. Cochran, Ph.D., MS-MVP
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