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Welcome To How to use OE in Windows 7
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Last updated: 06/30/2010

How to use Outlook Express in Windows 7
A number of Windows's users are disgruntled that Microsoft has removed its mail client, Outlook Express (OE), from Windows 7. Many have become used to the features and functionality of OE.  A reduction of features (e.g. the loss of the the Identity's feature and the removal of the "Contacts Pane") occured in Vista with "Windows Mail" (OE renamed). Microsoft's current alternative, Windows Live Mail further reduces the mail client's features and functionality (e.g. by removing the View | Source Edit capability as well as by blocking the ability to use dynamic HTML (first introduced and lauded by Microsoft in 1997-98) in email messages). In addition, rather than fixing old bugs present in OE and new ones introduced in Windows Mail in Vista, Windows Live Mail adds many new bugs. Many, both publically (e.g. http://thundercloud.net:80/infoave/answers/2009/windows-live-mail.htm) and privately, have decried these reductions in individual customizations, features, and quality. And some just don't like an ever-changing email client and want to continue to conduct their messaging as they have for the last decade.

Outlook Express itself will not install and will not run in Windows 7, as it is not compatible with it.
So for those users who prefer to retain Outlook Express as a mail client, I present here some alternative means to use OE in Windows 7.

1. Do not upgrade to Windows 7 if you use XP.
If you have an older computer running Windows XP, it may not be desirable to update your system to Windows 7, as some programs and devices may not be compatible with Windows 7 (see Windows 7 Compatibility Center ).
2. Use "XP Mode" in Windows 7 Professional (or more advanced versions)
If you have a computer with Windows 7 Professional (or more advanced versions -- not Windows 7 Home version-- see http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/compare/default.aspx), then you can add a feature known as "XP Mode" (see http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/features/windows-xp-mode.aspx. To upgrade your version of Windows 7, see here, http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/windows-anytime-upgrade). This Windows 7 add-on gives the user the capability of running Windows XP as a virtual operating system window on the the user's Desktop, so the user experiences a "computer-within-a-computer" type of system. Within the virtual Windows XP operating system the user can run Outlook Express and use all of its functions as one can in a "regular" computer. Users with compatible computers can download the "XP Mode" add-on here, http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx.

3. Use Windows XP in a virtual operating system environment using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
If you have a computer with Windows 7 Home and cannot or do not wish to upgrade, you can install Virtual PC 2007 and run Windows XP as a virtual operating system on the Desktop and thereby run Outlook Express within this virtual XP system (note that the referenced page does not include Windows 7 Home as a supported operating system, but running it will just generate a messagebox that it is not supported, and then it will continue to operate fine.) However, this requires that you have a valid Windows XP install CD in order to create the virtual operating system (Windows 7 Professional (and more advanced) has its own operating system provided with the "XP mode" add-on, so it might be preferable to update your system to the Professional version, if that is possible).

The image below shows an example a Windows 7 (Ultimate) Desktop and Outlook Express running in an virtual XP environment using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007:

Messages were sent and received from this instance of Outlook Express.

Note that users who have Windows Vista as their operating system can also use this option as well as those using Windows 7.

A new tool, Disk2VHD, developed by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell gives XP users a fantastic opportunity to actually clone their current XP machines (within limitations of the tool), so that they can run their old machine as a virtual machine within the Windows 7 environment. One can run this utility and it will convert the old hard drive into a file that is a virtual drive that can be booted to as the old machine or can be accessed as an accessory virtual drive, so the user can at least copy data from it. If the user wishes to boot to the drive with Virtual PC, then it is likely that the user will have to re-activate the virtual machine, so the user must possess proper licences. As mentioned, however, the converted drive can still be accessed from a virtual operating system as a secondary drive without needing activation.
Which option to choose?
The easiest option is to use "XP Mode" with the supported Windows 7 operating system. However, if the user is prevented from that course, or if they wish to preserve their older system and its applications, they can take the Disk2VHD option and clone their systems.

Those who wish to preserve their Vista systems can also use this technique and run Vista as a virtual operating system and thereby use Windows Mail, if they prefer. NOTE: Windows Mail is crippled in Windows 7, so it won't function properly. There are other means to run Windows Mail in Windows 7 that overcome this debilitation (see for instance, http://www.techspot.com/vb/topic137494.html).

This Disk2VHD route may also lead to the need to reactive the virtual XP operating system (see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307890). No fixed rule can be ascertained or be exposed as to what may be required, as that would need to be determined on an individual basis between the user and those issuing the activation keys.
What to do?
I cannot as yet provide step-by-step instructions on how to go about setting up the options mentioned above.  Users should visit the other links I have provided for each option, and if needed, consult with other users (via newsgroups, forums and messages) on the individual tasks and how to perform them. Many of the referenced sites have forums that discuss the various features and how to set up the virtual systems.

Once the system is set up, then, when running in the virtual environment, the user can copy a backup of their old system (if they didn't use Disk2VHD) and then merge the backed-up registry keys and copy the backed-up message store. That will then clone their backed-up system (they will still have to provide passwords again), just as if they were restoring an old backup, or transferring the system to another XP machine (see http://www.oehelp.com/backup.aspx and http://www.oehelp.com/OEBackup.aspx and http://www.insideoe.com/backup/).
You cannot fix Outlook Express
Users must keep in mind that the same issues that are currently problematic in Outlook Express will continue to be problematic. Microsoft will not fix Outlook Express, so the user will need to take the usual precautions. Particularly they must make frequent backups of the messages within their virtual XP systems as they will be susceptible to the known fragility and instability of the dbx file system used to hold the OE messages.

In addition, they should continue to maintain their virtual XP systems via Windows Update to keep their systems up to date with security patches. Microsoft will continue to provide security updates for XP (SP3) until 2014 (see http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=3223).

Finally, it should be stated that these alternatives are only provided for those who wish to maintain their current Outlook Express mail client when their old machines need to be replaced. Those who enjoy other mail clients are in no way prevented from using those clients. This page is only meant to address those long-term users of OE who wish to preserve its capabilities, while enjoying the many Windows 7 features also.

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Copyright 2010 - 2012 Stephen L. Cochran, Ph.D., MS-MVP
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