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Get organized with Outlook 2003's Search Folders

Old messages cluttering up your inbox? With the new search folders in Outlook 2003 finding that important e-mail is a breeze. Check out this tip for more on Outlook's hidden gem.

When I was first introduced to Microsoft Exchange, more years ago than I care to think about, I never understood why people kept so many old messages on file.

I recall seeing that the director of IT for the company that I worked for at the time had a couple of thousand old e-mail messages stored in his Inbox. I never understood why anyone would need to hang onto all of those old e-mail messages. In my mind, if someone sent you an e-mail, you were supposed to respond to it and then delete it.

Well, it's amazing how people change over time. As the years went on, I eventually started my own company. In doing so, I realized that it was necessary to keep a lot of e-mail messages in order to keep the lawyers, the Internal Revenue Service, and a few other government agencies happy. I now have 6,500 e-mail messages stored in dozens of folders. Some of my e-mail messages are not organized at all, though. I have well more than 2,000 messages that I never had time to sort, just sitting in my Inbox.

Normally, it would be a nightmare to sort through all of those messages if someone were to ask me for all of my messages related to something specific. However, Outlook 2003 offers a new feature called Search Folders. The idea behind Search Folders is that you can query Outlook to search for e-mail messages based on a number of criteria.

The feature works like this: You start out by entering one or more criteria that you want to search on. Outlook then creates a folder and places messages matching the criteria into the folder.

The nice thing about the way that this works, though, is that when Outlook places the messages into the folder, if never moves the original message. Instead, it simply provides the illusion of putting a message into the folder. When you look in the folder you see what appears to be a normal message, but what you are actually seeing is a pointer to the original message that is still stored in its original location. This means that if you happen to create two different search folders and a message falls into both queries, Outlook won't be forced to make a decision as to which folder to place the message into; the message can reside in both search folders and its original location.

So why use Search Folders at all? Why not just Use Outlook's Find feature instead? The Find feature works great for one-time queries. However, suppose that I routinely search for messages sent to me by the editors at TechTarget. Creating a Search folder would prevent me from having to enter search criteria each time that I wanted to look for those messages. Instead, I could just go straight to the search folder and the search results would have already been compiled and made available to me.

Creating a search folder is easy. To do so, simply right click on the Search Folders container and select the New Search Folder command from the resulting shortcut menu.

When you do, Outlook gives you a choice of about a dozen "fill in the blank" predefined searches. There is also an option to perform a completely custom search. Enter your search criteria, click OK, and the new search folder is created.

Now you are on your way to getting even more organized.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has been designated as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, Tech Target, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies, and numerous other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web sites at and

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