Outlook with split personalities

Office for Mere Mortals
Your beginners guide to the secrets of Microsoft Office
Invalid email address
Tips and help for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook from Microsoft Office experts.  Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.  Office for Mere Mortals has been running for over 20 years, we've never, ever revealed or sold subscriber details.  Privacy policy

How to setup Outlook to operate for different people on the one machine.


A mention in a recent issue of our Email Essentials newsletter prompted some questions about how to setup Outlook to operate for different people on the one machine.

Starting in this issue we’ll explain the different ways you can do this with Outlook. Most commonly you use the somewhat hidden ‘Profiles’ option.

Most of us have different roles in life. Outlook profiles don’t have to be used for different people, they can also be used if you have separate roles that use different email accounts. Here are some roles that you might want to split up into separate Outlook profiles:

  • personal (friends and family)
  • operator of a small business
  • using your home machine to check mail from work
  • a hobby that uses a lot of email (like family history)
  • a volunteer role (secretary of a club, coach of a large sporting team etc)

Each of these can have separate email accounts which you can manage separately in Outlook.

Of course, you could do these all off a single Outlook profile and categorize the email in other ways. The choice is yours. Generally speaking have separate profiles for one person works best when the roles are distinctly separate and have enough email traffic to warrant the trouble of a separate profile.


An Outlook Profile is a separate collection of settings for Outlook – those settings include all the email account details, views and where your data is stored.

It’s a similar idea to the user accounts login in Windows. If you login to Windows with different names you’re using the same computer and operating system but with separate settings for your ‘My Documents’ folder and all the other details that customize your computer.

Profiles do a similar thing at the Outlook-only level. Once setup you get to choose which profile you want and only those settings are loaded.

No additional Office or Outlook licenses are required to use Profiles.

Pocket PC / ActiveSync users need to use Profiles with care. ActiveSync (which syncs Outlook to your PDA) doesn’t seem to understand Profiles and it works with whatever Outlook data is available. You need to make sure that your Pocket PC only syncs when the Profile you intend is running, otherwise ActiveSync may try to replace or merge different sets of Outlook info.


Outlook Profiles are setup at Control Panel | Mail | Show Profiles where you’ll see a list of the existing profiles. Most likely there’ll only be one probably called ‘Default’ – which is the name given to your current Outlook setup.

To create a new Profile, click on Add, give the New Profile a descriptive name like ‘Sports Club Chairman’ ‘Friends and Family’ etc. This is the name that will appear on your list of profiles later.

After that you get the standard screens to setup email accounts etc in Outlook.

If you are given the opportunity (it depends on the version of Outlook and other settings) then make sure the Outlook data file (PST or OST) has a better name than the default. Doing that will help you match the data file with the profile if it’s necessary later.

If the new profile is similar to one you already have then you can click on Copy and clone it then make the changes you want.

Don’t be tempted to use the ‘Copy’ profile option if you’re having trouble with Outlook. It might seem like a good idea to clone the troublesome profile and try again, however in reality you’ll probably just copy the bogus settings. It’s better to manually re-enter your settings into a new profile just in case there’s a problem with the registry settings for the old profile. Outlook has got better at handling this in recent versions but back in Outlook 97/98 and 2000 it could be a nightmare.


After you’ve started Outlook with a profile changes you make to settings (email accounts etc) are linked to that profile automatically.

Alternatively you can return to Control Panel | Mail | Show Profiles, select a profile and choose Properties to edit the email account details for any profile. Any changes you make will take effect when you next start Outlook with that profile.


So how do you select which profile Outlook will use?

Back at Control Panel | Mail | Show Profiles you’ll see a section at the bottom.

Always use this Profile

Select this and the matching profile from the list. When you start Outlook it will always use this profile. If you want to use another profile you have to return to this screen and select the other option.

Prompt for a profile to be used.

When you start Outlook it will present a list of profiles for you to choose from for that session.

You’re done! When you start Outlook you’ll get the profile you’ve selected. Sadly you can’t quickly switch profiles, you have to manually shut-down Outlook and re-start it.


Often there’s one profile you’ll use most of the time and it would be good if that profile always appeared by default on the startup list, so you just have to click OK to continue. You can do that though it’s not documented. Switch to ‘Always use this profile’ and select the profile you’d like as the default selection, when change the option back to ‘Prompt for a profile to be used’ with the other option grayed out (but showing the default profile).

Latest news & secrets of Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office experts give you tips and help for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.  Office Watch has been running for over 20 years, we've never, ever revealed or sold subscriber details.  Privacy policy
Invalid email address