Sometime early this year, Microsoft phased out support for Windows Live Mail, their free email client. In a silent update, all mail accounts were switched from POP3 to IMAP. Your collected old mails didn’t go anywhere, and you could still move messages to your old folders, but incoming messages were no longer removed from the server on your email service unless actually deleted. Again, this was all without notice to users.
So one of my tech support clients contacted me with a problem sending email. The message coming back from her ISP’s mail server was self-contradictory. Only after doing some research did I realize what Microsoft had done. Her storage quota on the ISP’s server was full and it was refusing to handle any outgoing messages until some space was cleared. Further, I believe that Windows Live Mail was no longer keeping up with all the background protocol stuff that changes from time to time.
Here’s the real problem: Windows Live Mail uses a peculiar storage format that nobody else uses. It’s called “eml” but the storage format had been “improved” sometime recently, so it was compatible only with an expensive upgrade to Outlook. Just about every other email client you can install on Windows uses mbox. While Mozilla’s Thunderbird claims it can import the eml format (after you install an add-on), it choked on this particular client’s huge collection of folders and sub-folders from several years of hording. This person is politically active, so email is a major portion of her life.
More research and I found lots of tools to convert these eml folders to mbox, but all of them cost too much. Finally, I found the one free utility that didn’t cost extra, but it required Ruby libraries. Then I noticed the same developer had an older project no longer in development called IMAPsize that, among other things, could convert any collection of eml files into an aggregated mbox folder. But there is a drawback: The software tool is designed for something else entirely and does that conversion as an additional tool. So if you install IMAPsize on your Windows computer and fire it up, you have to cancel the prompts about adding an account and simply go to the tools on the menu and hit “eml2mbox.” This opens a prompt and you can drill down to where the Live Mail folders are stored (see this page for guidance) and select the list of messages inside of a given folder.
You’ll be prompted for a name, which is in effect a “folder” of mbox messages that you are creating. Notice that you’ll be offered a button with the ellipsis (“…”) which allows you to select a folder/sub-folder to open and select all the messages inside. You can simply use the name of the folder where it’s located to maintain your previous structure. It won’t confuse things because the mbox format is multiple messages inside one file, and it will add the “.mbox” extension to the file name. Thunderbird likes that just fine. The laborious part of all this is that you have to invoke that tool and it’s different prompts for each folder and subfolder with the messages inside. You cannot select a folder, only individual eml message files inside the folder.
In my case, it was three folders deep in places, with both messages and subfolders, so I had to convert each little batch, one at a time, to maintain the client’s complex email storage system. It took a long time. What made it slightly easier is that I exported all of her mail from Windows Live Mail to her Download folder, creating a new folder named for her ISP.
After conversion, to import them into Thunderbird, which already had the import-export tools add-on, I first created an empty folder under the “Local Folders” and then right-click on it. From the pop-up menu, I selected from the import submenu to import an mbox folder. In the open prompt, I located her exported email collection and first pulled in all the mbox files there. Then, right-clicking on each of those, I chased down the subfolders inside her original collection and imported each mbox file from there, drilling down as far as needed. Thunderbird swallowed the whole thing very neatly and she didn’t lose her long history of collected messages.
This is how you do customer service.