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Reader Question: Synchronizing Microsoft Outlook inboxes

Reader Question: Synchronizing Microsoft Outlook inboxes post image

A reader with multiple email accounts and two different computers (both with Microsoft Outlook 2010) has a problem that anyone who occasionally does the “work from home” thing can probably relate to: he wants to receive all his emails on both computers. But how?

I have a laptop at home and a desktop in the office. Both these computers use Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010. … On a daily basis, I receive emails with attachments up to 20 MB in size.

… I am having difficulties in maintaining an up-to-date  status on both the above mentioned computers when moving between office and home and vice-versa.

Presently, I am depending on Outlook’s Import and Export feature to export mails to a portable hard disk before leaving office. When back at home, I export this data from the portable hard disk to my laptop. The next morning, I export from the laptop to the hard disk. On reaching office, I have to import from the hard disk to the desktop. Also, it takes 10 minutes for each export or import.

Needless to mention, the frustration that I will encounter, if someday I forget to export or import.

I am sure you will have a workaround for such a tedious problem and anticipate your guidance.

‘Indeed I do,’ I thought to myself. (And, yes, I think “tedious” is the perfect word to describe the export/import routine he’s shackled to!)

For years, I’ve had a similar problem — namely, needing to access my most recent messages via webmail and/or smartphone during the day while Outlook is periodically downloading messages on my main PC. But I’ve solved it through the years with one simple setting in Outlook.

Many Outlook users don’t know there is a setting available in each email account that instructs Outlook to leave new emails on the server for X days (you specify how many days). To change that setting on each Outlook 2010 computer, go to the File tab and click the Account Settings button. (In Outlook 2007, you’ll need to go to Tools | Account Settings; click here for instructions on 2003 and earlier versions.) You’ll see a list of all of the email accounts you’ve set up.

(And, yes, I have way too many email accounts.)

For each email account, click on the name of the account (click #1 above), then click Change … (click #2) to get to the Internet E-mail Settings dialog box. Once there, go to the Advanced tab:

Once I’d outlined that setup, I thought it was “problem solved” for my reader. No such luck. As it turns out, Outlook automagically (yes, I know that’s not a word) marks messages on the server to remind itself, “yes, I’ve already downloaded that,” which means the second installation of Outlook won’t download it whenever that one does Send/Receive.

So, I went back to the drawing board. After doing a little research, I came across an article on Outlookipedia that listed a number of applications that purport to synchronize your Outlook setup between, say, your desktop and your laptop (as in this reader’s case). Here’s an excerpt:

How do you sync Outlook between two or computers?

While there are many useful utilities and addins offered by Microsoft that are designed to help you better manage Outlook; Microsoft does not offer a built-in feature or addin that allows you to keep Outlook synchronized between two or more different computers. However, the demand for a utility to sync Outlook between two or more computers is so great that there are quite a few addins offered by 3rd party software developers that actually do this quite well.

It should also be mentioned that there are several manual methods that you could employee to synchronize Outlook between two or more computer, but they appear to be quite time consuming and error prone and thus we will not waste your time in mentioning them. As previously mentioned there are quite a few addins offered by 3rd party developers that automate this task for you.

(Excerpted from Synchronize Outlook between two computers on Outlookipedia)

Just reading through the list of applications and their descriptions, there’s quite a bit of variance in what they synchronize (email only, email and contacts, the entire .pst file, etc.) and how much manual intervention is involved (i.e., whether you have to initiate the synchronization on either end and what equipment is involved). For my part, I’m inclined to go with something that synchronizes automatically over the Internet, but that comes with its own security risks that only the individual user can weigh for him/herself.

Unfortunately, I can’t really test this myself, but our intrepid reader is going to download one or more of the third-party applications listed in this linked article and let me know in a couple of weeks or so how he fares. Stay tuned for an update or, if this is a problem you’re having, try one of these yourself and let me know what you think!

Got a question of your own? Ask it via my Ask the Guru page!

Edit: Read the follow-up to this post (with the results of this reader’s testing) here.

by Deborah Savadra

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

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13 comments… add one

  1. Assuming security issues are not a problem, could you host the .pst file on dropbox and point each Outlook instance to the dropbox folder?

    I used to do something similar on a network drive for the same .pst file accessed by different computers on the network. I haven’t tried it, so try it at your own risk. :)

    1. @Seth – I don’t know how the file would “behave” if accessed by two different instances of Outlook simultaneously. Perhaps if you never have both instances of Outlook running at once, and as long as you can assign a drive letter to the cloud storage (I can’t on mine, but maybe Dropbox is different), that might work.

      But you do bring up a good point on security. Plus, if your internet connection is out, you probably lose all access to stored email during the outage. I don’t know what Outlook is doing about cache in that case — that’s “above my pay grade,” so to speak.

  2. Here’s a youtube tutorial on how to sync Outlook between two computers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k2wIq9hCEw&feature=feedlik

    1. I was having a similar problem – wanting to synch email between old (32 bit XP) and new laptop (64 bit Win7) – a Network Drive has taken care of documents, but needed email – checked that You Tube video mentioned above http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k2wIq9hCEw&feature=feedlik and downloaded the Code Two software and it is working really well, solved my problem. My machines both in wireless range of router, so not sure if that solves problem for original person.

  3. Folks,

    If your email provider allows for IMAP mail (and a lot of storage), then you’re FAR better off using IMAP instead of POP. If you do, everything remains on the server until you archive it locally. And – there is a Sent and a Trash folder on the server.

    Used this way, and with every device (PC’s, Smartphones, Tablets), when you read a message on any device, it shows everywhere as “Read”. When you reply on any device, it shows as being replied to everywhere, and the copy of what was sent is in your Sent folder on the server, which means every device sees what the reply was (no more Blind CC’in yourself!). When you delete an item on any device, it’s deleted everywhere.

    This method does NOTHING for your calendar and contacts. I am using a few other techniques for that, which I will put in a separate post.

    For me, this is the best and fastest way to absolutely synchronise your email messages, short of an Exchange server. Everything is in synch within about 30 minutes of setting it up on all devices, and then you can forget about it.

    Rick

  4. If your office uses Exchange server, you can use Outlook anywhere to connect to your Exchange e-mail account from home or office without having to establish a VPN connection.

    The Outlook Anywhere feature allows you to access your Exchange account from home when you are working outside of the office.. It is like accessing Outook as if you are in your office. This will eliminate the need to synchronize.

    Check out the link below and ask your IT administrator to set up Outlook anywhere. This is included with Exchange, however some administrators do not set this up.
    http://helpdesk.princeton.edu/kb/display.plx?ID=9863#2010

  5. I am using a colleagues old computer. We have transfered my new email to this computer and I still have his emails on my outlook. For some reason when he tries to send emails to me they go to him instead now. It does not matter what computer he is on, any emails he sends to me go to him instead. How do I fix this? Also calendar is not set up on my email yet, how do I do this?

    1. @Julie —

      Whoever set up Outlook on your computer did not set up the email accounts correctly. I also don’t really understand what you mean by “when he tried to send emails to me they go to him instead.” What you need is some bona fide help desk support. If you do not have a regular IT person or a current service contract on that computer, try contacting Support.com. Someone will need to log into your computer remotely to figure out how Outlook was set up and correct it.

  6. Since when is it not normal to leave email on the server? I could swear it is standard practice. Have had multiple outlooks same addresses for 10+ years.?

    Now the sync thing, that is getting to be too much

    1. @DAne -

      The synchronization becomes necessary because of this (see the article I wrote above):

      “Once I’d outlined that setup, I thought it was ‘problem solved’ for my reader. No such luck. As it turns out, Outlook automagically (yes, I know that’s not a word) marks messages on the server to remind itself, ‘yes, I’ve already downloaded that,’ which means the second installation of Outlook won’t download it whenever that one does Send/Receive.”

  7. Apparently this problem is fixed in Office 2013. There is a small graphic on the bottom right of Outlook that says “synchronizing”. I can get my email from all my computers. Unfortunately, occasionally when I delete an email it shows right back up again, but when I delete it a second time it is gone. I keep my mail on the server until I delete it – other than that I made no changes in the Outlook setup, using a POP3 account.

  8. I see that this article was written some time ago and having been through the outlookipedia article I wondered if a free way of mail syncing was out there?
    Best, Bryn

    1. Not that I know of. And with even Microsoft moving more toward the cloud (think Office 365), it’s doubtful that email syncing is going to be around for much longer.