Thursday, June 10, 2010

MS Outlook Slow to Start

It is embarrassing, whatever ones business, if a client rings up for an appointment, and you have to keep them waiting for 30 or more seconds while MS Outlook cranks into action. It is especially embarrassing if the client is calling to ask you to build a new computer for them, which they hope will be quick and easy to use.

My old excuse was that I was using a Dell Pentium III laptop, which for sentimental reasons I didn't have the heart to throw out. But I am now using a recently built system using a Pentium Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB RAM to run Windows XP pro. So what is my excuse now?

When I built the system I partitioned the hard drive and put an identical OS on both partitions. The idea was that the C drive would be my top copy, and the D drive would be for experimentation. But I was so paranoid about intalling anything on the C drive, the D drive became my de-facto working drive. And it is the D drive on which MS Outlook displays the flash screen for 30 seconds before revealing any emails or appointments. On the clean C drive, MS Outlook starts in between 1 and 3 seconds. I could scrub the D drive and start again, but I thought I'd do some research first.

The first place I looked was the Microsoft forum. It used to be good, but it has gone badly downhill over the last few years. Anyway, using the title of the current blog as a search string rendered quite a short list of posts and absolutely nothing useful. Plugging the same search string into Google yielded a few hopeful looking forum posts. I tried this one and this one and this one. Sadly none came close to fixing my problem.

To summarize, deleting or renaming the extend.dat file did nothing. Running "Detect and Repair" from within Outlook did nothing. Backing up my personal folders file to a safe location and deleting the original to force Outlook to build a clean empty one did nothing. Uninstalling MS Outlook and reinstalling did nothing to solve the problem. It just took 30 seconds to display and empty mail folder. Uninstalling my AVG antivirus software did not help MS Outlook to start any faster.

So I thought the problem might be in the Windows registry, and I thought I'd try using Windows restore. I remember it took a few weeks to corrupt MS Outlook, so I chose a restore point from the day after I installed it. My AV software had been installed before that, and nothing had been installed since. (If nothing had been installed since, the question might arise, how did I corrupt it, but let's leave that one for now). Anyway let me caution anyone else tempted to use Windows restore not to. It is perhaps the stupidest invention ever to come out of Microsoft, and in the ten years since it came out, I have only ever once achieved a successful outcome with it. Mostly it achieves nothing, and often it corrupts the whole system. This for me was one of those occasions. My AV software disappeared/ceased to function, and MS Outlook still displayed the flash screen for 30 seconds before showing my now empty mailbox.

After wasting the best part of 4 hours fiddling around achieving nothing, my conclusion is that the only sensible solution is to ditch the OS. So how did the situation arise? I don't know exactly. My mailboxes are large, but they are large on the C drive and that installation works fine. I was using the import feature a lot, when I was alternating between the C drive and the D drive, and maybe the mailbox got corrupted. But in that case why did the problem remain after I deleted my mail box and created a new one? The only other possible explanation lies in the integration with AVG - maybe something happened during an update. But again it seems unlikely, as I have another computer using Outlook (admittedly with an empty mailbox) and AVG, and it works fine.

So it will remain another Windows mystery. I'll go back to using my C drive, and either ditch the D drive, or not use Outlook in it, or leave Outlook running all the time so I don't have to wait for it to start. I'll back up my C drive on a regular basis, so I really can "restore" to an earlier time if I need to. And I won't hate Microsoft - I use their software, and I still don't completely like the alternatives - but I will wonder whether the day will come when such problems really can be fixed with a diagnostic tool, rather than wiping a drive sector and starting again.