Finding lost mail in your top level Outlook/Exchange root

Let's say you accidentally drag a message in Outlook from its folder to the top level of your mailbox. You know, that folder that is called "Mailbox - John Doe", which seems to momentarily hang Outlook when you click on it but is really just preparing the "Outlook Today" view.


Where did your message just go? Do you know how to get to it?


We already know that you can't just click on the mailbox folder because it will bring up the "Outlook Today" view, and as far as I can tell, there is no way to turn off the "Outlook Today" view.  (Update: As most of the comments point out, it is easy to turn off the Outlook Today view in Outlook 2003, by opening to the home page tab of the properties page for Outlook Today and unchecking "Show home page by default for this folder." I don't have older versions of outlook sitting around but it might work there too. So you can skip the rest of the post now...)


Has the message been deleted? If you right-click on the mailbox, get its properties and click the 'folder size' button you will notice that the size of the folder without subfolders is greater than zero, and if you accidentally drop another message into the mailbox you will notice the size increases, so you know that the message isn't gone. Phew. Even if you don't think you've ever been as clumsy as me, you should take a look at the folder size. If it isn't zero then you also have some messages up there. If it is zero then you are more coordinated than me, and if you want to follow the rest of this entry you can reproduce the original accident using a copy of a message from your deleted items or junk mail folder.


Those of us with access to a Mac can now jump over to Entourage and see if we can get to the lost message. Unfortunately we don't get to gloat this time as Entourage can't see the message, and it doesn't matter if you set up the account as an IMAP account or as an Exchange account.


How about OWA? You fire it up, and take a peek at the URL used when opening a folder in a new window which looks something like: http://myserver/exchange/gil/Inbox/mycoolfolder/?Cmd=contents. So you try stripping out the /Inbox/mycoolfolder, but that doesn't get return any results. A little more playing and you find it makes no difference if you connect to front end or back end, Premium OWA or Basic OWA.


Don't bother trying an IMAP account in Windows Outlook Express, it doesn't help.


OK, back to Outlook.


If you know anything about the lost message, you can do an advanced find for it, making sure to search from the top folder. This will find the message. (You can also do an advanced find for all messages, but that might take a while and you might have a hard time picking out the lost message from all the results.) In the search results take a look at the 'In Folder' column for the message (if it isn't shown, then you need to right click on the column header, select Field Chooser, and add the column). It will say either 'IPM_SUBTREE' or 'Top of Information Store' depending on which versions of Outlook and Exchange you are running.


Armed with this information we can now create a search that will return only the messages we need. Go to the advanced tab of the search criteria and enter a criteria for 'In Folder' contains IPM_SUBTREE.


Cool, we've found the message, but now how do we keep this search around so that we don't have to jump through these hoops every time this happens? In older versions of Outlook you are stuck saving out the search as file (it will have an .oss extension). That isn't so helpful because files have a way of getting lost and never being around when you need them. To get around this, you can drag the .oss file into Outlook. I used to keep it around in my drafts folder (my misuse of the drafts folder could serve as fodder for a whole new series of posts about the wrong ways to manage notes and how OneNote saved me.


If you are running the latest Outlook/Exchange you can save the search to your Saved Searches, which is very convenient and is yet another good reason to upgrade.


I've always assumed that there is an easier way to find these messages, but I've never found it, and with the addition of saved searches my workaround is good enough for me.


To answer the question that I'm positive is not topmost on anyone's mind: IPM stands for InterPersonal Message.


Random things I should look into some day unless someone kindly answers in a comment: what archive settings does the IPM_SUBTREE location have?