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Microsoft Outlook Express stores your email files in a hidden data folder buried deep in the user's home folder.

I can't understand why they chose to do this. It makes it nearly impossible to selectively backup your data files unless you know. I can't tell you how many people I know who've lost years worth of email because they didn't consider where outlooks stores it's mail.

This booby trap feature has been there for years. Is there a good reason for it?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Graham Herrli, greenforest, Matt Obee, ChrisF, Benny Skogberg Oct 12 '13 at 4:57

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The rationale behind this:

  • Documents contains files that can be manipulated by the user - Rename, Edit, Delete, Send etc.
  • ApplicationData (now ProgramData) are files manipulated by software.

You don't open an MSOE file from windows explorer, you should not rename it, to forward an email you do not send the file it is stored in, if you don't need the emails anymore you shouldn't delete that file.

Now, I have marginally better things to do than to defend the clunkyness and "moving target"-ness of who-stores-what-where on Windows. The storage model attempts to solve

  • a slowly evolving model for multiple users on one machine
  • roaming profiles
  • files to big for roaming profiles

So for each file, you'd have to decide: is it user-specific or shared? Is it "owned" by the user, or the software? If it's user specific, does it roam? That's six locations already (shared doesn't roam)

It is exacerbated by various issues:

  • an awkward balance between protecting and enabling the end user
  • users are not administrators - not because security, but skill
  • a "users are administrators" tradition in Windows Development
  • Backward compatibility for "screw that documentation, I find the path myself" developers
  • Backward compatibility with fundamental shifts in working and use models
  • Apparent loss of central control of such issues
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Besides that MS approach to UX makes me scratch my head sometimes, I think that in this case the reason might have been that user should not actually fiddle with the file. He or she should use mail, and not care about the underlying structure.

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Yeah, but they pretty much leave everything else open including the system32 files, etc. – Joel Rodgers Feb 17 '13 at 5:27
And this is exactly what makes me wonder if there is such idea or not. It's like Maeda's simplicity law in a very hostile and complicated world. Could be as well: "Joe, should we have it in My docs?" "Naaah, let's hide it to make them search a bit". There is however an idea behind the file structure, you can read more here: (old MS paper, regarding Windows Server, but it's pretty much the same in all Windows). – Dominik Oslizlo Feb 17 '13 at 6:43
@JoelRodgers: more or less, at least XP's explorer had "this folder is off limits" for system drive, program files and windows. Not sure if this is stil in W8, I get rid of those practically automatically. – peterchen Oct 10 '13 at 10:01

Windows systems is not intended to backup individual application files, as you are suggesting. Instead you are supposed to backup your computer where you have several options on choosing which user files you want to backup.

Backing up e-mail through selecting an individual application file is an highly advanced task, and I imagine that Microsoft doesn't want that to happen. But if you want to you can.

I'd suggest using the export function instead of fiddling with an application file. Are you sure that you can restore mails if the system fails using your backup? I've seen systems failing if you used it the wrong way. In this case, there might bu a GUID you're unaware of?

To conclude: Backup the system or export e-mails as Microsoft want you handle backup.

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I'm well aware of how to perform a backup. I was wondering why they hid the folder. Even a systems administrator wants to know where their folder is hidden. – Joel Rodgers Mar 3 '13 at 19:05

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