Migrating e-mail from Mozilla Thunderbird to Microsoft Outlook

Since the end of November, I’ve been using the Mozilla Thunderbird client for my personal e-mail. It’s quite good (and in many ways better than Microsoft’s Outlook Express, which is no longer being developed), but it lacks many features that I used daily in the full Microsoft Outlook client (and quite frankly, Outlook was doing a better job of filtering out spam). The biggest drawbacks for me were a lack of calendar functionality, no longer being able to send SMS messages from within my e-mail client and that the address book only has space for two e-mail addresses per contact.

Anyway, sometime this afternoon, my laptop is due to be collected for repairs, so I needed to get my e-mail data out of Thunderbird and into a format that I could use on my work PC for a week or so (i.e. Microsoft Outlook personal folder – a .PST file).

Finding the Thunderbird data was easy enough – the Thunderbird FAQ pointed me to %appdata%\Thunderbird\Profiles\randomstring.default\; however, Thunderbird uses the standard Unix .MBOX format whilst Outlook Express uses proprietary .DBX files (but understands .EML, which are plain text files) and Outlook stores messages in binary proprietary .PST files.

Outlook can import data from Outlook Express, and Outlook Express claims to be able to read Eudora data (which is also in MBOX format); however I couldn’t get Outlook Express to read my Thunderbird files, instead displaying the following message:

Import Message
No messages can be found in this folder or another application is running that has the required files open. Please select another folder or try closing applications that may have files open.

A Google search turned up some anecdotal evidence of successful conversions using Eudora as an intermediary, but this was based on Eudora v5 (v7 is the current version available for download). After digging further, I found two articles which used third party utilities to convert the .MBOX data to .EML – one from Robert Peloschek (aka. Unic0der), and the other from Broobles. The principles are the same:

  1. Compact folders in Thunderbird (optional, but prevents conversion of deleted messages).
  2. Back up Thunderbird mail data (a simple file copy is fine).
  3. For each Thunderbird file without an extension (e.g. Inbox – but not Inbox.mfs), convert this to a series of .EML formatted files, for example using the Broobles IMAPSize utility (this is what I used) or Ulrich Krebs’ Mbox2eml (which relies on a Java runtime environment being present).
  4. Drag and drop the resulting files from the file system to Outlook Express.
  5. Import Outlook Express data to Outlook.

It worked for me, with one caveat – messages I had sent, but that were filed in locations other than in my Sent folder, all have the date stamp set to yesterday. I’ll live with that (after 2 hours of converting the data in each individual folder to a series of .EML files and the dragging and dropping them to the appropriate locations in a new folder structure, I’m just glad to have my data back where I want it) but I did read that this can be controlled by changing the sort order from received to sent before the file conversion and import.

So, that’s my Thunderbird experiment over. I’ll probably try out the e-mail and calendar client on my Solaris box soon (so will be back to .MBOX format I guess) but for a long while now I’ve been meaning to set up a mail server at home so that I can keep the mail there and use IMAP to access it online from whichever client I choose.

Dealing with winmail.dat files

A few days back, a business contact e-mailed me a copy of a presentation as a .PDF file. No problems there, except that when it got to me (using the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client), it was called winmail.dat. I tried saving the file as a .PDF but Acrobat Reader didn’t like it so I had to do some googling to find out what to do with this strange file (I remember having problems with this during a migration from Pegasus mail to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook a few years back and we had to resort to using plain text e-mails until everyone had been migrated).

I found an article on the PC Hell website that not only explained the purpose of the winmail.dat file (used by Outlook Rich Text e-mails to carry the formatting information in transport-neutral encapsulation format), but also gave links to various programs that can process the winmail.dat file. One of these is Steve Beadle’s WMDecode utility, which successfully extracted my .PDF from the winmail.dat file.

The joys of sending e-mail from a telnet session

Whilst checking out Steve Lamb and Kathryn Tewson/Steve Riley‘s articles in the November/December issue of TechNet magazine, I came across a link to an article by R’ykandar Korra’ti asking how simple is SMTP? I remember having great fun sending SMTP directly by telneting into a server when I first learnt about Exchange Server back in 1996 and you can read how to do it. Then, just because I can, I sent myself a mail using a telnet connection to my ISP’s relay.

How to make Outlook the default e-mail program

Today, I finally got around to rebuilding the notebook PC that I use for e-mail, blogging, web site maintenance and general home IT (I keep all my digital media work on another, desktop, PC). I’m taking this opportunity to try out Mozilla Firefox 1.5 (released yesterday) and to give the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client a go (of course, Internet Explorer is still installed for the badly-written sites that mandate its use, or that don’t recognise Firefox as a valid browser). As a long time (8-year) Outlook user, I needed to import my previous contacts (I took the opportunity to leave behind my e-mail) but this is where I’ve found Thunderbird slightly lacking…

Although Thunderbird does support the import of address book entries from Eudora, Outlook, Outlook Express and a variety of file formats there doesn’t seem to be any capacity to filter imports (or to import directly from a personal folder (.PST) file. Instead, the import relies on Outlook being the default e-mail client (or the use of an intermediate file).

The Set Program Access and Defaults feature within Windows XP (mandated as part of one of the many Microsoft antitrust rulings) that is intended to make it easier to specify the default programs for certain operations (such as web browsing, e-mail, media playback, instant messaging and choosing a Java virtual machine); unfortunately it didn’t allow me to specify Microsoft Outlook as the default e-mail client (nor did the option which is supposed to allow this from within Outlook). Strangely, what was needed was to open Internet Explorer and select Internet Options from the Tools menu before using the Internet programs drop-down lists on the Programs page.

Following this, I managed to import my data, but now I notice that my contacts’ addresses have been duplicated in both the home and work address fields. Thunderbird may well turn out to be an excellent e-mail client but its data import capabilities seem to leave a lot to be desired.

One method of opening strange attachments from trusted sources

Whilst I was on holiday last week, a professional photographer friend of ours sent me a list of gear that he is selling now that he has switched from Nikon to Canon (come on Nikon, can we have a full-frame image sensor in a digital SLR please…). Unfortunately, he is a Macintosh user and the attachment arrived in Microsoft Outlook as a a .DAT file. Not having a clue what application he had created this list in, I opened it with Notepad and found the words Microsoft Excel Worksheet contained within all of the binary garbage. I opened the file again (this time in Excel) and hey presto – a list of equipment for sale!

Using e-mail properly

Craig Murphy has a whole load of interesting advice filed under project management, and one which caught my eye tonight was his post on using e-mail properly. Speaking as someone who spent two hours yesterday filing the last month’s worth of business e-mail (after spending too much of his holiday time generally getting his files which were spread across several PCs and external hard disks into some kind of order), I think I might try to take some of this on board in my new job

Microsoft acquires FrontBridge

Back in March, I wrote about some new e-mail message continuity services from FrontBridge. Well, according to a press release just received from Microsoft, FrontBridge is about to become Microsoft’s latest acquisition as it steps up its systems management and security capabilities. With the purchase of Giant Company (anti-spyware), Sybari (anti-virus) and now FrontBridge (anti-spam and message continuity), Microsoft’s security arsenal is starting to look good. It will be interesting to see how these purchases shape up and whether they are integrated into Windows, retained on an application service provider (ASP) basis, or developed into one or more new products, perhaps as part of the System Center family, or (in the case of FrontBridge) maybe we will see some of the new technology integrated into Exchange 12?

New e-mail message continuity services

I’ve just read about a new message continuity service from FrontBridge, designed to provide always on e-mail in today’s environment where e-mail outage is seen as a major business continuity issue.

Complementing the other e-mail managed services offered by FrontBridge, Active Message Continuity provides:

  • Always on e-mail continuity and disaster recovery with no need to “flip a switch”.
  • Interception-based archiving to capture messages “in stream” after filtering for spam, viruses and other unwanted content.
  • Continuous access via a web interface.
  • A fully managed service, starting from $1/month/user.

FrontBridge is already well established in the e-mail application service provider (ASP) market, but this new product is a key differentiator allowing FrontBridge to offer message compliance, message security and message continuity at a time when competitors such as MessageLabs are concentrating on just one area – that of message security (anti-virus, anti-spam and content control).

The new face of spam

We are all used to spam arriving in our e-mail inboxes, but now the problem is spreading to other communications methods.

Research by Wireless Services Corporation shows almost half of the mobile phone text messages received in the US are spam, compared with 18% a year ago. Another problem is the growing menace of spam over instant messaging (spim), with Meta Group reporting 28% of instant messaging users hit by spim.

Meanwhile, IT managers are turning to new methods of trapping e-mail-born spam at the network edge. According to e-mail security provider Postini, 88% of e-mail is spam and Symantec reports 70% (their Brightmail Antispam product is used by ASPs such as MessageLabs) with 80% from overseas, particularly China and Russia. Appliance servers are now available that claim to trap “dark traffic” such as unwanted inbound SMTP traffic, directory harvest and e-mail denial of service (DoS) attacks, malformed and invalid recipient addresses.

Last month, Microsoft acquired Sybari and according to IT Week, the Sybari tools are likely to be offered as a plug in for the virus-scanning API in Exchange Server 2003 service pack 1, as well as part of Microsoft’s plans to offer edge services in forthcoming Exchange Server releases, including Sender ID e-mail authentication in Exchange Server service pack 2, IP safe lists, and a requirement for senders to solve a computational puzzle for each e-mail sent, increasing overheads for spammers (and unfortunately for the rest of us too).

Some industry commentators criticise the use of filtering products, citing examples of blocked legitimate e-mail. Sadly this will always be the case (one of my wife’s potential customers once claimed that her domain name pr-co.co.uk is invalid, blocking all addresses containing hyphens) and many of my clients (wisely, if in a somewhat draconian style in some cases) block various attachment types. A few weeks back, even a reply which I sent to a request for assistance left on this blog was picked up as spam. There will always be a trade off between false positives and a small amount of spam getting through – what is needed is for a real person to double check the filtered e-mail, combined with an overall increase in the use of digitally signed e-mail.


Practical measures for combating spam (MessageLabs)