Way back in 1998 when I started college, I had two options for email. I could either use PINE via telnet on the university’s servers, or I could use a mail program like Outlook or Eudora. I chose Outlook for home use, and PINE when I was away from my computer. And I never deleted anything. Luckily I had an astronomically large hard drive that I think was 80 GB, but that seems really big for 1998. So after 6 years at my college email address (No, not 6 years of college. I worked there for 2 years after I graduated) I had accumulated about 512MB of email in the proprietary PST format. Then I switched to Gmail, which everyone knows is much, much better than anything else ever.
When Gmail went down for about an hour yesterday, I started thinking about how much I value my Gmail account and how nice it would be to have access to all my old emails. And even though it wasn’t proving especially reliable yesterday, I think Gmail is just about the safest place to keep them. It’s way more accessible than a PST file, which we’ll see in a moment.
I was on my Mac at the time, so I tried to open the PST file on a Mac program. I figured Mail could do it. Wrong. Then I thought Entourage was a natural choice since it’s made by the same company. But astonishingly enough, Entourage has no ability to open Windows PST files. Microsoft has a utility that can convert PST files from Outlook 2001 for Mac only. Then of course I thought of Thunderbird. It’s a great program and I used it for my work emails while I was in Germany. No dice there either. It was obviously time to switch to Windows.
I opened the PST file in Outlook 2003 for Windows. Then I tried to connect to Gmail via IMAP. No luck. It wouldn’t connect to the server. So I opened Thunderbird for Windows and had it import all my Outlook mail. First I had to make Outlook my default mail program. Then I connected to imap.google.com and created a new folder to put all my old messages in. I dragged a huge folder I had informatively called “unsorted archives” into the Gmail folder and Thunderbird immediately started uploading all the messages to Gmail. This took a large part of the night. When I woke up they were done, and since then I’ve been uploading the other, smaller folders. It works most of the time, but sometimes I’ll get an error from the server saying that a particular message can’t be “appended.” Then I go in and figure out where the upload stopped and copy everything into the folder again.
I don’t know how useful my emails from 2nd semester freshman year will be, but you never know when you might need to know something. All of my email only takes up 30% of my quota on Gmail, so it doesn’t hurt to have it available. I don’t have my old high school emails, but I suspect some things are better lost to the ages.