Exporting and importing Outlook 2011 messages

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Like some others scattered around the U.S. this past week, I took advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to spend time with my family. To stay in touch I dutifully dragged along a MacBook Pro. When I returned, I wished to transfer its week’s-worth of e-mail to my desktop Mac.

I’ve recently switched my e-mail client from Microsoft Entourage to Outlook 2011 ( ) and expected that moving a relatively small passel of messages would be as easy with Outlook as it was with Entourage—just drag the Past Week mailbox to the desktop to turn it into an MBOX file, transfer that file to my Mac Pro, and drag it into its copy of Outlook.

And that would have been a solid plan had Outlook supported views or the seemingly ubiquitous MBOX format. Regrettably, it doesn’t.

Instead, when you choose the File -> Export command, you’re offered the single option to export mail in the Outlook for Mac Data File (.olm) format. And—just as regrettably—you have to export all your mail. There’s no option to export a range of mail or single mailbox. In my case, this was a problem as I carry a lot of e-mail with me and exporting it would have taken longer than I cared to wait.

With the Export command offering no comfort I explored selecting and dragging the messages I wanted. This appeared more promising. When I selected that week’s-worth of e-mail and dragged it into a folder on the desktop, each message appeared as a .eml file. When I double-clicked on one of these files, Apple’s Mail opened and I was able to preview the message. However, I couldn’t drag any of them into Outlook.

Unable to believe that Microsoft left no better avenue for moving messages from one copy of Outlook to another, I turned to Twitter (where I appear in the guise of @BodyofBreen). In reasonably short order, one @macfixer (Kyle DeMilo) provided the solution.

When I double-clicked one of the .eml files and it opened in Apple’s Mail I should have taken the hint. By default, these files are associated with Mail (Mail uses a .emlx rather than .eml extension for its messages, but it amounts to the same thing). In order to import the messages into Outlook 2011, you have to change their association. This I did by selecting one of the exported .eml files, pressing Command-I to produce the file’s Info window, choosing Microsoft Outlook from the Open With pop-up menu in this window, and finally clicking the Change All button.

Having done this I created a Last Week's Mail folder in Outlook and dragged in the messages from the folder on the desktop. There they appeared, complete with their attachments.

So, to sum up in a few easy steps, to move messages from one copy of Outlook to another:

  • Create a folder on the desktop of the Mac you want to export from.
  • Select the messages you want to export and drag them into the folder you created.
  • Transfer the folder to your other Mac.
  • Select a .eml file, press Command-I, and change its association to Microsoft Outlook.
  • Select the transferred messages and drag them into Outlook.
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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • New interface makes many tasks easier to access
    • Improved Exchange support
    • Faster than Entourage
    • Redesigned AppleScript dictionary
    • No longer reliant on a single database
    • Better support for Time Machine and Portable Home Directory Sync
    • Redesigned preferences make setting up the application easier
    • UI more compatible with Outlook on Windows


    • Assorted 1.0 bugs
    • AppleScript implementation holes mar improvements to AppleScript Dictionary
    • Exchange support requires Exchange Web Services
    • Exchange 2003 and earlier not supported
    • Exchange support limited to what EWS allows
    • Time Machine limitations
    • UI changes hardest on existing Entourage users
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