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Getting Inside Outlook Processes

Get help from Process Monitor if you want to find the cause of some Outlook performance errors.

Chris: Thanks for the tips in your column, "Repairing Outlook 2007 Data File Errors." I’ve done those steps repeatedly. I can usually reopen Outlook and not get any warnings. But if I close Outlook for more than a few minutes or reboot the computer, the error comes right back. Any chance some other program is accessing the PST file (like Google Desktop trying to index the file or something else) and making Outlook think there is a problem? I see many other people are encountering the same problem and, of course, Microsoft’s Web site is silent on the issue.

Mike, you are certainly not alone in experience problems with Outlook 2007. I recently googled “Outlook 2007 error” and saw that just over 2.4 million hits were returned. I know -- that probably doesn’t make you feel any better. Hearing that 2.4 million sites list an Outlook 2007 error is like taking comfort when eating at McDonald’s, since 50 billion others have consumed their fast food and lived to tell about it.

I have received feedback from numerous readers regarding my first article on Outlook 2007 data file errors and have worked with as many as possible at getting Outlook 2007 to run reliably.

As you suggest, Google Desktop is one of the culprits that can result in Outlook 2007 data file errors. Google Desktop Search resides as an add-in in Outlook 2007 and will increase the time it takes the outlook.exe process to close, especially if Google Desktop is in the process of indexing Outlook e-mail when Outlook is closed.

Based on some tests that I have completed with Process Monitor, I have found that it will sometimes take more than two minutes for the outlook.exe process to close after I close the Outlook application on my desktop and the Outlook window disappears. For a computer, two minutes can be an eternity. So if you close Outlook right before turning off your computer, it’s very possible that Outlook.exe will still be running when the shutdown process starts. As a result, Windows may forcefully terminate the outlook.exe process as Windows attempts to shut down.

Some have solved the problem by uninstalling Google Desktop Search or replacing it with Windows Desktop Search, which seems to be a little friendlier to Outlook 2007. I personally love Google Desktop Search and have been using it for the last couple of years. If you're like me and don't want to replace Google Desktop Search, I don’t blame you. However, you will need to keep in mind that after shutting down Outlook, you will need to wait a few minutes before shutting down your computer. Opening Task Manager, clicking the Processes tab, and verifying that the outlook.exe process isn’t running will validate that any indexing running inside Outlook has completed.

Note that Google desktop search only indexes Outlook 2007 via an add-in when Outlook is open. Google Desktop Search confirms this by displaying the message “Outlook email is indexed only when the application is open” when you attempt to perform a desktop search while indexing is in progress.

While I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how running Google Desktop Search may inadvertently lead to Outlook 2007 data file errors, I haven’t spent time on some of the other causes. One potential cause to Outlook 2007 data file errors or performance problems is the size of the Outlook .pst or .ost data file. This issue is documented in the Microsoft KB article, “You may experience performance problems when you are working with items in a large .pst file or in a large .ost file in Outlook 2007.”

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Numerous applications work with Outlook and, as a result, may access Outlook data (.pst or .ost) files. When you continue to receive errors stating that Outlook did not close properly, the cause may be another application on your system. You can determine if an application is accessing your .pst or .ost Outlook files by using Process Monitor. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Download and unzip Process Monitor.
  2. Open Process Monitor by double-clicking on the procmon.exe file.
  3. When Process Monitor opens, click the Filter menu and select Filter.
  4. When the Process Monitor Filter dialog box opens, click the top left drop down menu and select Path.
  5. Click the next drop down menu and select Ends With.

  6. Now enter .pst in the text field. Note that if you are a mobile Outlook user that synchronizes with an Exchange server, you would enter .ost instead of .pst.
  7. Next, ensure that “Include” is selected in the top right drop down menu and click the Add button.
  8. Click OK to close the Process Monitor filter dialog box.

You will now see all of the processes accessing any .pst files on your system in real time. This should allow you to see if a suspected program is accessing your Outlook data after Outlook.exe has closed. If Outlook.exe remains open for several minutes after you close Outlook, then the delay in closing the Outlook executable is most likely related to an Outlook add-in (such as Google Desktop Search). You can confirm if the errors you are receiving are add-in related by disabling installed Outlook add-ins one-at-a-time until the problem goes away.

Outlook 2007 add-ins can be disabled by following these steps:

  1. Open Outlook 2007, click the Tools menu, and then select Trust Center.
  2. Click the Add-ins option on the left side of the window.
  3. At the bottom of the Trust Center window, ensure that COM Add-ins is selected in the Manage drop-down menu and click Go.
  4. In the COM Add-ins dialog box, all Outlook add-ins are displayed. Enabled add-ins will have a check in their adjacent checkboxes.
  5. To disable an add-in, clear the add-in’s adjacent checkbox and click OK.

You would then want to monitor Outlook to see if the data file error problem goes away or, at the very least, is far less frequent. If so, then you have found the add-in that is the cause of the problem. If not, then try disabling each add-in one-at-a-time until you find the cause.

While there are dozens of possible causes for Outlook 2007 data file errors, hopefully the method I have described here will help you to determine the cause of the problem on your system. When running Outlook 2007 without error, the experience can be just as satisfying as devouring a Happy Meal.

About the Author

Chris Wolf is a Microsoft MVP for Windows --Virtual Machine and is a MCSE, MCT, and CCNA. He's a Senior Analyst for Burton Group who specializes in the areas of virtualization solutions, high availability, storage and enterprise management. Chris is the author of Virtualization: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Apress), Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley), and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).learningstore-20/">Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley) and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).

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