November 21, 2007

Importing PST Files: GMail's Would Be Secret Weapon

If you listen the rumbles in Silicon Valley, you would think Google's office suite and Apple's Mac OS X operating system were taking over the world. But the further you get outside the Valley, and often within the Valley itself, you see that Microsoft Windows is still the dominant operating system, as are its application counterparts, Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Office. If you're a real enterprise, it's basically assumed you're running Outlook.

But the biggest drag on using Outlook has got to be the stupid .PST files. With any kind of serious e-mail archiving, they top out at 2 Gigabytes apiece. Keep the same e-mail address for any kind of time, and you're left not only with multiple .PST files, each being 2 Gigs or so, but it's a new job just to keep track of what .PST files correspond with what amount of time.

Running desktop search software, like Google Desktop, helps to find the old e-mails, but often, clicking a link saying to "Reveal in Outlook" leads to a dead end. Sometimes the archives don't open well. Sometimes Outlook chooses to archive to your local desktop instead of to the network, and any kind of bug could leave you with huge gaps.

Meanwhile, with this playing out in companies everywhere, Google is offering about 5 gigabytes of storage space to consumers everywhere through GMail. Just this evening I was told I'm using "221 MB (4%) of your 5123 MB." For business customers, this number is upped to 25 gigabytes of storage. While that's fantastic for new businesses, anybody already using Outlook has to honor the old .PSTs if they want to get to old messages.

But what if you could import old PST files into GMail, honoring the folder hierarchies you had set up, and had the ability to search through all your e-mail, through all its history? While there's no doubt the import of a single 2 Gigabyte PST file would take a good amount of time, the end result - a single, searchable, Web-based e-mail archive for all your messages would be the holy grail. I believe that with all the issues surrounding Microsoft Outlook - including licensing, viruses, and... the PST files, the prospect of moving to GMail would be quite inviting. But until GMail can help migrate away from Microsoft altogether, real growth will be stunted.

Other comments: PST Files to Gmail, Anyone know of a PST to gmail or mbox converter?


  1. Great idea. It would certainly help me dent my Gmail via Google Apps for Your Domain account, which is 25 gigs.

    I'd also like to be able to import mbox files -- I have a few big ones exported from Entourage.

    The thing is, it doesn't have to be Google who does this. A third party website could offer conversion as a service, and make it available to GMail via POP3 interface. They'd probably have to charge a modest sum per GB or something to make the biz model pencil.

  2. Louis,

    You and I were thinking the same thing last week - and I found a solution! Turns out, you can easily import PST messages thanks to Gmail's new IMAP features! Just add the Gmail IMAP account to Outlook and you can drag and drop messages in bulk! I imported 5 years of messages this way last week! See my blog post for details...