Long time waiting after Outlook patch

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An Outlook 2007 update can make your startup take over an hour.

A Cumulative Update for Outlook 2007 has some unexpected concerns and the usual set of mixed messages from Microsoft.

The February 2009 Cumulative Update for Outlook 2007 is a collection of fixes, Microsoft releases these ‘CU’ bundles from time to time. Usually these updates have little exciting in them and are useful for corporate administrators to deploy a single group of fixes.

The February 2009 CU is different, it has a long series of bug and performance fixes for Outlook 2007 most of which haven’t previously been admitted by Microsoft.

Rather than a simple bundle of patches it seems more like a preemption of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 by the Outlook team, perhaps frustrated by the slow deployment of SP2 and under pressure from large corporate clients.

According to Microsoft

This update contains a significant number of new performance-focused improvements for Outlook users. We especially focused on the areas of starting up and shutting down Outlook, switching between folders with large numbers of messages, calendar reliability and consistency, and general responsiveness of the application when performing common tasks around managing your e-mail, calendar, and other information. “

We’ve published the full list of fixes and improvements separately.

Microsoft also says:
“In short, we believe your daily experience with Outlook will be greatly improved with the installation of this Cumulative Update.” and

This update should address many concerns for both individual users and those managing large deployments of Outlook alike”

which sounds like a strong endorsement and encouragement to get the patch immediately.

But there’s a message disconnect at Microsoft about this update. It was initially called a ‘Cumulative Update’ with the strong endorsement for people to apply the patch. But two weeks later the company retreated and started calling it a ‘hotfix’ and recommending the patch if you’re “experiencing serious issues around Outlook performance with respect to large data files (large mailboxes or Outlook data files (.PST)), switching between large folders, calendar reliability, or general issues with Outlook responsiveness”. Of course that last comment ‘general issues with Outlook responsiveness’ could apply to almost anyone using Outlook.

This patch isn’t the usual ‘download and apply’ update. You have to request the update specifically from here then follow the instructions provided in an email.


Gotcha’s

If you do get the Cumulative Update there are some ‘gotchas’ buried in the documentation.

Startup Delay – the first time you start Outlook after applying the patch you can be up for a long wait. Part of the fixes is to rebuild your Outlook .PST data file. For many people that file can be several gigabytes and, according to Microsoft, can take an hour or more to rearrange.

More attachments blocked – Four new file extensions are added to Outlook’s list of blocked file types, while Microsoft doesn’t say so, all four extensions seem aimed at protecting Outlook users from security lapses in Microsoft’s own products.



  • .cnt – there are several companies that use this extension but it seems to have been added to the block list because of security issues when used as part of Windows Help files.
  • .osd – another multi-use extension but again this seems targeted at Microsoft’s use of .osd as a Windows system file.
  • .vbp – a Visual Basic developer extension
  • .hpj – a Microsoft Help project file.

Outlook Live Connector – “Using Outlook 2007 SP2 together with the Outlook Live Connector 12.1 may cause duplicate entries in the Calendar and in Contacts unless all clients that are connected to the account are upgraded to SP2.


Precautions

If you do apply this Cumulative Update we suggest you backup your Outlook data. Anything that overhauls your vital PST data file is cause for caution.

We wonder about the ‘rebuilding’ of the PST file included in this update. Microsoft has two versions of the PST file – the older version with a size limitation and the newer version which has a much greater possible size see Outlook PST – One Name – Two file formats Is it possible that the older 97-2002 PST files are being converted to the newer format as part of this update? Probably not but we can always hope Microsoft will make a conversion tool.


What to do?

Unless you have a pressing need, we suggest waiting for the ‘just over the horizon’ Office 2007 Service Pack 2 which will contain all these patches and more. SP2 is due in ‘late Spring 2009’, assuming Microsoft means the northern Spring, you can expect SP2 before the end of June 2009.

Service Pack 2 will have better support and testing than this cumulative update.

Given the issues with this update, it’s worth keeping in mind that before installing SP2 (once it arrives) a backup of data (especially Outlook data) is even more prudent than usual. We suspect that the PST rebuilding in this update will also be part of the first use of Outlook 2007 after installing Service Pack 2.


Our experience

We tested the February 2009 Cumulative Update for Outlook 2007.  A few minutes after completing the online form, an email arrived from Microsoft with a download link and a password to extract the download.  The download is a password locked, self-extracting archive and you’re prompted for a folder to save the update. 

Once you’ve done that, totally close down Outlook.  Go to the folder and double-click on the office-kb961752-fullfile-x86-glb.exe file.  The updating process only takes a few moments.

When we started Outlook 2007 after the update it showed a progress dialog ‘Preparing Outlook for first use’.  The first time remaining indication was 2 hours but that reduced faster than time passed.  Our Outlook 2007 with a 4.7GB data file eventually took 35 minutes to properly open the first time. 

It’s too early to say if there’s any noticable improvements with the update.

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