Some notes we've thrown together.

Here are a few articles we've prepared on technical topics which other people may find helpful.

Importing Outlook PST files into Outlook 2011 on Mac OSX :

Last Updated : July 2013

I recently helped a client move all of their data from a PC laptop to a MacBook Pro laptop.

When we moved a copy of their Outlook for Windows .PST file containing 14GB of emails to the Mac, Outlook 2011 would not import the .PST file. It quickly gave the following error message :
"The data file is damaged and Outlook is not able to import it"

According to this Microsoft troubleshooting webpage, the message relates to MS Exchange in some way, but this client wasn't using MS Exchange.

This issue actually appears to be caused by the .PST file having been created in a very old version of Microsoft Outlook many years ago, and then migrated to newer computers and newer versions of Outlook on the PC as the user's work progressed. This is also how you accumulate 14GB worth of email data inside the .PST file!

As described briefly in this Microsoft help page, the older versions of MS Outlook created ANSI-based .PST files, whereas newer versions created Unicode-based .PST files. Outlook 2011 for Mac OSX can only import from Unicode-based .PST files.

So, in order to get the Mac to read all of their existing data stored in the ANSI-based .PST file, we would need to get it into a Unicode-based .PST file, and attempt the import on the Mac again. Microsoft doesn't provide any tools to convert between the .PST file formats. This means we need to create a new, empty Unicode-based .PST file from scratch in Outlook on Windows, and then copy all of the items from the existing ANSI-based .PST file into the new Unicode-based .PST file.

I set about to do this manually, prepared to sit in front of Outlook and copy each of the user's sorted email subfolders containing thousands of messages and attachments into the new .PST file. However, at the last minute, I began wondering that since there weren't tools for converting the .PST files directly, maybe there were tools for syncing the contents of two .PST files with each other, allowing the software to do all of the work of getting all the existing data mirrored into the new .PST file. I started searching around to see if there were any tools that would do the job.

SynchPST for Outlook was exactly what I was looking for. This program does what it sounds like it would, and handled all of the work syncing data between the two .PST files. It has lots of options you can configure before starting the sync process, and handled the conversion of all of the data perfectly. It took around six hours to run on the PC laptop and convert all 14GB worth of data, but when it finished, we were able to transfer the new Unicode-based .PST file over to the Mac, and import it into Outlook without any problem.

It all sounds so straightforward when I describe it here, but we couldn't find much help anywhere else getting this problem resolved.

  • Outlook 2011 for Mac OSX gives an error message during the failed import which is vague and not helpful about what needs to be done to get the .PST data imported successfully. Migrating Windows-based .PST files to Mac is a frequent task people do when switch to the Mac, and making the process easier for them (moving data from one Microsoft product to another) would seem to be obvious. The Microsoft help webpage linked above just mentions the cause of the problem briefly at the bottom of that note, but doesn't provide any more help on how to resolve the actual problem.
  • The Apple Store's Genius Bar has experts who help people move their data from PC laptops to Mac laptops on a daily basis, but when the client visited their local Apple Store to get assistance with this, the Geniuses were stumped, couldn't help, and deferred her to contact Microsoft instead. So, this required solution doesn't seem to be something they are familiar with in their travels there.
  • Web searches found many other people experiencing the same issue, but none of them mentioned any particular solutions to help fix the problem.

Hopefully these notes save someone else the trouble we went through to determine the actual issue and implement a solution.

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