Request for tech help: reward offered! The .PST -> Gmail move

I am finally going to take a step I've contemplated for quite a while. I have at least a dozen years' worth of correspondence piled up in my old, archived .PST files for Outlook, and I am ready to move all of that into a Gmail "cloud" account.

For the record, here's why I think it's time to take the step. I lay this out for anyone considering a similar move:

 - Affordability. As mentioned earlier, Google has made available essentially limitless amounts of online storage for very low prices. Its announcement here; my earlier comment on it here; price schedule here. I'm currently signed up for an extra 20GB of storage, on top of the 7+GB that comes free with each Gmail account, for $5 a year.

- Convenience. It's inevitable that every year or two I'll migrate from one computer to the next. I would rather not have to worry about migrating, preserving, updating, etc those physical .PST files each time. Google has its pluses and minuses, but I assume that its engineers are more professionally competent at storing and protecting information than I am. Is there a risk that somehow they'll lose it all? Perhaps. Statistically there is a greater risk that I will (because of theft or fire, because of aging media, etc). Is there a risk that they'll spy on it? Maybe, but I have bigger worries in life. And after all, every email I've ever sent or received has passed through systems that scanned it for spam etc, so it's already been "surveilled" -- like everything else we do on line. (Topic for another day.)

- More convenience. I keep most of my research and working files up-to-date among my various computers via cloud synchronization with SugarSync. The huge exception is Outlook files. For reasons mentioned below, they just won't work with most online sync programs. So I have to copy them over one by one via USB stick. If all the archives lived in Gmail, I wouldn't need to do this. All my computers would always be up to date.

- Searchability. The main reason I want to have those old files is to be able to search them, when needed. It's faster and more flexible to search within the Google cloud than it is on my own machine. (Inside-baseball point below.*)

- Cumbersome nature of Outlook. That Outlook works as well as it does is impressive -- it has been years since I've actually lost information from it. But it's the most crash-prone of Windows programs I regularly use. Also it seems inherently cumbersome. For example: If you want the contents of old .PST files to be searchable within Outlook, they all have to be "open" each time you use the program -- and every single one of the .PST files is then marked as having been "changed" merely by virtue of being opened, whether or not a single byte has been altered. That is a nightmare for any backup or archive system. Even if you have not written, deleted, or read a single message, simply by loading Outlook you mark all open .PST files as newly in need of backup, which creates a practically endless loop of needless backup chores.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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