Fixing Outlook after a Vista upgrade

After you’ve upgraded your Windows version to Windows Vista you could have issues with getting Outlook to run properly while it worked perfectly before the upgrade. This guide explains some troubleshooting methods to get Outlook working properly again and to some extend also applies to any application that isn’t working anymore after a Windows Vista Upgrade.

The issues can be very diverse. I’ve heard of issues of no longer being able to start Outlook, general instability, no longer being able to send messages, no longer being able to use certain features etc…Basically anything that can go wrong. Pointing a finger at the root cause is hard but you should be aware of this; the longer you’ve been running Windows XP and the more applications you have installed the harder the upgrade process is and the bigger the chance is that something will go wrong.

I’ll work from the less drastic troubleshooting method to the most drastic approach. I won’t link issues to solutions since this would be nearly impossible and will not improve readability either. This guide is about getting Outlook to work again and not to cure symptoms. After each step you can check if Outlook works. If you still have issues after one step advance to the next. If you don’t care about troubleshooting you could just skip to the the last approach which is a guide on how to do a clean install with a Windows Vista Upgrade disk. This will get Outlook to work again guaranteed!

Is your Outlook version compatible with Windows Vista?

Officially only Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 are supported to run on Windows Vista. If you are running an older version you should consider an upgrade to Outlook 2007 or use Windows Mail instead. Any version before Outlook 2003 has known Vista compatibility issues which are very likely not to be solved nor will it put back those versions of Outlook into a supported state.

Check Windows Update

At the time of writing this guide there are no “Vista Upgrade” related patches but if there are known issues which Microsoft can solve by issuing a patch; this is where they will publish it. To make sure you’ll also receive patches for Office applications upgrade Windows Update to Microsoft Update. To do this start Windows Update by clicking “Check for updates” in Control Panel and in the left pane click “Change Settings.” At the bottom make sure your Update service is set to Use Microsoft Update.

Do a reinstall of Outlook/Office

To make sure all the components are installed correctly we’ll reinstall Outlook/Office. To do this go to Start-> Control Panel-> Uninstall a program. Once uninstalled restart Windows Vista and insert your Outlook/Office CD/DVD and run setup. Once that is done run Windows Update again to make sure all updates for Office are applied. Note: reinstalling Outlook will not lead to loss of mail, contacts, calendar, etc data or configuration settings.

Check 3rd party applications

No we know that Outlook is installed correctly, it could be that 3rd party applications are preventing to run Outlook properly. These are usually mail scanning applications, add-ins or applications that depend on Outlook to run properly.

  • Mail scanning applications;
    Mail scanning applications are for instance virus scanners that integrate with Outlook/Office, Junk E-mail scanners (except for the build-in one in Outlook 2003/2007) or synchronization software. If you have installed any of these verify with the vendor that you are using a version that is compatible with Windows Vista. If your virus scanner is compatible with Windows Vista but it includes a mail scanner disable this mail scanner. If the scanning application was already installed before the upgrade to Windows Vista reinstall these applications.
  • Add-ins;
    Add-ins are applications that are running in Outlook and builds on or extends Outlook functionality. You can find some of these add-ins here. Not all add-ins for Outlook are compatible with Windows Vista yet. You should verify with the vendors of the add-ins to find out if they are compatible with with Windows Vista. If they are not compatible to run on Windows Vista uninstall them. If they are compatible uninstall them as well and reinstall them once you get Outlook to work again. This will make further troubleshooting less complex.
  • Applications that depend on Outlook;
    An application that depends on Outlook to run properly is for instance fax software. These applications usually identify themselves that when they get started the outlook.exe process will also start without making the main Outlook screen visible. You shouldn’t be trying to start these kind of applications before you’ve got Outlook itself to work first. Once you’ve got Outlook to work start troubleshooting these applications by the method instructed by the vendor.

Resetting security settings

To make sure all security settings on your personal files are set correctly go to C:\Users\. Here you’ll find folders named after user accounts. Right click your own folder and choose Properties. Select the Security tab and verify that your account name is added to the list and that Full Control is selected. If either is not the case press Edit… and then use Add to add your account to the list and once added select your account to enable Full Control. Press OK to leave the screen.

Whether your name was added already or not press the Advanced button. Here press Edit… and in the new dialog that pops-up select “Replace all existing inheritable permissions on all descendants with inheritable permissions from this object.”

If you run into any errors go back to the Advanced Security window and select the Owner tab. Here press Edit… and select your account name. Enable “Replace owner on subcontainers and objects” and press OK. This should continue without any errors. Once done return to the Permissions tab and repeat the step above. This one should continue without any errors now as well.

Resetting Outlook and Office settings

The following suggestions will reset Outlook settings; it will not result in the loss of any mail, contacts, calendar, etc data. I will list them again in order of less drastic to most drastic.

  • Reset outcmd.dat and extend.dat
    This will reset the toolbar settings and the add-in registry cache. Rename these files to .old. By default you can find them here;
    outcmd.dat: C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook
    extend.dat: C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook
    The files are automatically recreated the next time you start Outlook.
  • Export Office settings
    Press Start and type regedit.exe in the Search Bar. Launch Regedit and locate the following key;
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office
    Use File-> Export to create a backup of that key and once saved remove the key from the Registry.
    The next time you start Outlook or any other Office application it will recreate the key and will populate it with its default values.
  • If Outlook still doesn’t launch correctly after this recreate your mail profile.

Recreate the user account

Are you noticing a pattern already? Some settings are hard to upgrade. Since we’ve basically reset everything Outlook related we’re approaching one of the more drastic troubleshooting methods; recreating the user account. You’ll still not loose any Outlook data over this but if this method works you’ll need to transfer user account information like for instance your private documents, Internet Favorites and Outlook data. You’ll have to transfer this data manually or you’ll end up transferring settings as well and thus the initial corruption. For more information on how to manually transfer Outlook data you can use the following guides;
Backup and Restore
Adding/Recreating a Mail Profile

To create a new user account go to Start-> Control Panel-> Add or remove user accounts. There select to create a new user account and follow on-screen instruction. Do NOT delete your original account yet. Only do that when you have gotten everything to work with the new user account, transferred all your data and no longer need the old account. When you delete the account you’ll also delete the private data and settings associated with this user.

Clean install of Windows Vista with Upgrade disks.

Still no luck or simply prefer to do a clean install over an upgrade? You might be happy to find out that you can actually do a clean install of Vista with only an upgrade disk. Before you start make sure you copy everything you want to keep, like for instance your private documents, Internet Favorites and Outlook data from every user, from the partition you want to reinstall Windows Vista on to a backup location. Example;
If you want to install Windows Vista on C:\ make sure you copy all documents and data that you want to keep from all users to a another location like D:\, CD/DVD, USB pen drive, backup tape, etc. You’ll have to transfer this data manually or you’ll end up transferring settings as well and thus the initial corruption. For more information on how to manually transfer Outlook data you can use the following guides;
Backup and Restore
Adding/Recreating a Mail Profile

Once you’ve secured all your data, insert your Windows Vista Upgrade DVD and restart the computer and boot the computer from the DVD. Follow the on-screen instructions until you reach the part to where you need to input your Product Key; leave it blank (important!) and press Next. This will install a 30 days trial of Windows Vista. When you are prompted to select your version of Windows Vista select the version you have a Product Key for. So if you have an upgrade version of Home Premium, select Home Premium, when you have an upgrade version of Ultimate select Ultimate, etc… Continue the installation process until you need to select the type of installation. Here select Custom and on the drive selection screen choose “Drive options (advanced)” to format the C:\ partition. Once the format process is done select it as the drive to install Windows Vista to. Continue the installation and follow on-screen instructions to complete the installation and logon to Windows Vista.

Once logged on run the Windows Vista setup again from the DVD but this time directly from within Windows Vista. Follow on screen instructions of setup and this time when you are being prompted to fill in your Product Key actually fill it in. When you are being prompted to select the type of installation select Upgrade. Have setup have its way and once done you’ll have performed a clean install of Windows Vista and should be able to get Outlook 2003/2007 to work. You can delete the Windows.old folder from your computer to free some space.