Wednesday, February 21, 2007

me and multi-pc outlook 2007

i've used outlook for my emails since outlook 97, however if there has been one thing i've never really been able to conquer in outlook is the ability to use a centralized PST mailbox file that all of my pc's and user accounts on pcs can use.  i know that this would not be a problem if i were to run my own Exchange server but to me that is overkill for a simple task that should have been made easier.  however, i finally sat down this last weekend and did some thinking and tinkering and think i finally got it work.  i also realized that i could have done this prob w/XP and 2000 but had given up for awhile on it (since i had to learn more about networking stuff and sharing ; man, i know a ton about sharing media files in Vista and Media Center).

so here's my situation:

i have two computers that i want to share my Outlook PST file to, however on each of those pc's (my main htpc and tablet) i am also dual booting XP and Vista (so my htpc has vista and xp sp2, while my tablet has xp tablet ed 2005 and vista).  I have all OS's running Office 2007 and in turn Outlook 2007.  My current pst mailbox files is about 300mb in size and is located on my main PC.  My tablet connects via 802.11g to my network.

finally, what i want to be able to do is to use my Outlook pst file on both my tablet and main pc and the most recently updated copy would then be sync.  also, i would want to be able to have access to it on my tablet before i leave in the mornings and use it offline and then sync back so at night i could read my emails on my main pc in front of the 24" beauty.. (i have NO regrets on my Dell 24" monitor purchse 1 1/2 ago; the most rewarding upgrade of mine ever besides my si and lcd hdtv).  oh yea, there must be security so that only authorized accounts on my main pc can access the files (since it is my personal emails!).  so, lets explain how i did this using just basic Network shared folder and the Sync center / offline files option in Windows. 

also since i'm dual booting both machines there are basically 4 ways i can be setup (xp + xp, xp + vista, vista + xp, vista + vista).  running vista on the client pc and either xp or vista on the host seems to be the easiest combination (synctoy however is needed if you boot XP Tablet Ed on the tablet and Vista or XP on the home). the only downfall is that my Vista boot time is a tad slow (i'll explain this later).  we'll refer to host pc as the pc that the main pst file is located on and client as the laptop/tablet involved.

we'll just concentrate on the client pc running Vista and the host running either XP or Vista. (can run XP on client and do this but it requires again syncToys since syncing is not built into the OS like in Vista and will add a layer of complexity).

1. on the host pc i booted to Windows XP.  setup office 2007, added my pst file into outlook. i then went to the folder where i have my pst file (made a backup, just in case my testing went awry) and went into Properties > Sharing.  (you prob will need to turn off simple file sharing in the Toolbar options; go to Control Panel > Folder Options > View tab, at bottom uncheck "Simple File Sharing"). setup the shared folder name (we will use this same when we setup the folder in vista) and also put a limit on connections (never hurts w/security).  then click on the Permissions buttons and be sure to give administrators and also authenticated users read/write/modify access and then click OK and reboot.

2. again on the host pc we will boot into Vista.  setup office 2007, again adding the pst file into outlook. remember that this is the easy part since the pst file is stored on this pc's harddrive (locally available to both OS's on my main pc).  again, we will need to go into the folders properties of the pst file and go to the Sharing tab. 


click on the Advanced Sharing button.  we will want to do this since to add security to the folder (only authenticated users can access/view/change it or admins).  we will want to give the shared folder a name (can be different than actual folder name on pc) and i also like to set a connection limit too and then click Apply.  


now click on the Permissions buttons to get to the permissions screen. i removed all groups/users and then added the Administrators group and Authenticated Users and gave them read / write permissions; setup your permissions as you please, just remember that deny rights override any allows. 


Voila, the vista part is done on the host pc. 

3.  i then setup the same pc name on the host machine for both XP and Vista (this does cause my vista to boot slower than usual, or so it seems w/my setup; i also had do this to fix probs i had w/media transfer connecting to my main pc from my tablet).   this is done in Start Menu > Control Panel > System and then the Computer Name tab (in vista, same location, then click on Advanced System Properties and finally Computer Name tab).  also be sure to join a workgroup if you have not already, you can just run the Network Setup guide (we need this for the network drives factor).

4. on the client pc (my tablet), boot into Vista and setup Office 2007.  do not setup outlook quite yet. 

5. go to your network and sharing center in control panel, be sure to be on a private network and also be sure you are on the same workgroup as the host pc (.  finally, go into Control Panel > User Accounts.  Click on the Manage your Network Passwords on the left.


On the Stored User Names and Passwords window, click on the Add button.  Fill in the name of the host pc (we setup earlier), then fill in a name of a user account on the host machine that has admin access and its password and click OK.  so when we access networks shares on the host machine, we should access them as that user we setup.  :) 


6.  again on the client pc we will now want to browse to the shared network folder w/the pst file to work offline with.  Vista's syncing capabilities are MUCH improved over XPs (reason why i have to use the SyncToy if i run XP on my client pc). go to Network Places, click on the host pc name and then right click on the shared folder and click the option "Always Available Offline". 

this will setup a sync relationship in the Sync Center and also add a system tray icon.  go to Control Panel > Sync Center.   you should now have a Offline Files item listed and also a status.  click on the Schedule button and then the Create a new schedule option.  Then select the shared folder we just made available offline, click Next.   Choose On an event or action for when we want to sync.  on the events screen, click the "I log on to my computer" event.  

7. setup Outlook 2007 on the client pc in vista and have your data file point to the pst on the shared folder.    you should now be able to access your main outlook pst online/offline on your client.  when your at home and connected to your network, your writing directly to the pst file on your host machine so syncing won't matter.  syncing is only important when you leave your home network since the client pc's outlook is looking for that network folder w/the pst file in it and w/it being available offline it will think its there.  so when you get back to your network you can either do a manual sync or relogin and it will run the sync and thus the main pst file is again updated on your host pc.

8. finally, some good pointers and notes:  

-you cannot access the same pst file from both the client and host at the same time since outlook needs to have read-write access to the main pst file. you could end up w/some really weird sync results too. not recommended!

-again, backup your pst file before you try this!!

-i always relogin when i am back at home w/my client pc so my network folder has the latest changes i may have made while on the road to the offline pst file.

hopefully that made some sense, i know i love being able to take my personal pst file and outlook on the go w/o having to have any servers running.  go vista! hehe, did i just say that? screenshots for the xp permissions/sharing will be added later when i boot my main pc back into XP. peace