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Outlook archives mail, but on its own terms

Outlook's Auto-Archive function is useful, but as this tip explains, be aware of how it determines how old a message is.

The Auto-Archive function in Outlook can move mail that is older than a given date to an archive PST automatically. But the mechanism Outlook uses to determine the date of a message can be deceptive.

Outlook tracks three date fields for each message to determine its age: the Sent date, the Received date and the Modified date. Whichever of these fields is most recent will be used as the official message date. Forwarding, replying to, editing, saving, moving or copying a message will change its Modified date and therefore have it treated as a more recent message.

On top of this, copying or moving a message does not always change its Modified field. If the message is being copied to a .PST file, the Modified field is not changed. However, copying to an Exchange mailbox or an .OST file will change the Modified field.

You can bring up the Modified date column in any folder view to see when the message was last modified, and sort by this field to get a realistic view of the most-to-least recently modified messages. This can help debug problems if Auto-Archive does not seem to be working correctly. If there are third-party Outlook plug-ins that are causing the Modified date to change, for instance, this is one way to find out.

Note that it is also possible to manually override the archive date for a folder or a whole mailbox. In Outlook, select File | Archive; select "Archive this folder and all subfolders"; choose the folders to archive (you can archive everything by selecting the Personal Folders object); set the archive date, then click OK.

Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter.

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