A Tale of Two Email Programs

A Tale of Two Email Programs – Prologue

Insomniacs take note: This is a good posting to read at 3 AM when you’re desperate for sleep. For best results read several times, and good luck to you. 

Email conversions are always fun. Lately, some interesting challenges have been converting Incredimail to Windows Live Mail and converting AOL to Mac Mail.

Both Incredimail and AOL share a mission to make it difficult to convert to another format. They have been somewhat successful in this. Some technical expertise is required to convert these email formats. A typical PC user wouldn’t be able to do this and would need to hire help to make the switch.

I’m going to talk about Incredimail and AOL  separately, as they have nothing in common aside from an intense desire to make sure you don’t switch.

AOL – Incompatible with Itself

Email task number one was to transfer a huge AOL cabinet file to Mac Mail. Nothing else mattered to the customer. One might think that one could simply move the cabinet file over to the Mac. Not quite… the format of the PFC (Personal File Cabinet) file is not compatible with the PFC format used on the Mac, nor has AOL apparently provided any sort of conversion routine.  In the parlance of the street, you’re SOL. You can’t use the Windows PFC on the Mac. And it can’t be recreated (actually it can be but no customer would pay the astronomical labor fee).

This was the proverbial straw that caused the customer to choose to use Mac Mail instead of AOL on an Airbook. Hence the challenge of converting  a Windows PFC file to Mac Mail.

This was a multiple step operation. I transferred the PFC file to my recovery PC, booted in XP, and then installed a third party software called Epreserver to process the AOL PFC and convert it to Mbox format. Epreserver claims to preserve the subfolder structure and this proved to be true. It took a few hours due to the size of the PFC file. Even though Epreserver has an option for converting to Mac Mail, you mustn’t use it. Use Mbox instead.

When Epreserver finished, there was a new folder in a path the user had chosen when Epreserver started. All of the PFC emails are in this folder, in Mbox format. Attachments are not transferred because AOL never stores attachments in the PFC file. Instead they are downloaded to your PC separately when you first read that email (and before you transferred the email to the PFC). If you never read the attachment, it just appears as a link to an AOL server location. Attachments were not as important as the content of the email in this case, since almost all had been downloaded when the containing email was first read.

Then this folder is transferred to the Mac using a USB key and dumped into documents. Then Mac Mail is started and you click on “file->import_mailboxes”. Then browse to the location of the mbox folder and click on continue. The messages are then imported into Mac Mail, and put into a mail folder called “Import” within a category called “On My Mac”. The imported messages will not clash with any other folders within Mac Mail unless you already have a folder called “Import” within the “On My Mac” category, in which case the import process will automatically create a differently named folder called “Import-2”.

I have tested this procedure fully on Snow Leopard but the import process shouldn’t be any different on later versions of Mac Mail.

The average user couldn’t have done this.

Incredimail – There is no Escape

Next comes the Incredimail challenge. Unlike AOL, Incredimail stores attachments within its proprietary email database, so they are not lost when converting. However, the database is proprietary and there is no export function (except for one email at a time). At the client site, I transferred the Incredimail data folders to a USB drive and told the customer I would do my best but no promises.

At my office, I transferred the data to an XP recovery PC and started some research. I found a few Incredimail to EML format converters but the one I used is free and is written by somebody named Reynard (reynardware.blogspot.com). It has a very basic interface but works fine and captures emails and attachments. Each Incredimail folder, such as Inbox and Deleted, must be processed one at a time to avoid crashing the conversion software.

Incredimail does offer an export function for contacts. I used that to transfer the contacts, and it worked except that I had some field matching to do when importing into Windows Live Mail.

Once  the Incredimail emails are converted to EML format, they can be easily imported into just about any email program on any operating system. For this particular customer, I put the converted messages on a USB drive and on-site I imported the messages (and the contacts as described above) into Windows Live Mail. Windows Live Mail is an email program I despise but for the very simple needs of this customer, it was the easiest option.


In conclusion, your choice of email program may bite you at some future point. There’s no way most people would know this when first choosing their email program. An email program can be a powerful tool for managing email and indispensable for using right-click context menu Windows wizards such as “Send To” to handle attachments. But some programs can also hinder your ability to easy switch without professional help.

However, remember that you always have the choice of ditching your old emails and starting from scratch. If your emails are worthless history a few days after delivery, this is the clear choice.

Note to Insomniacs: If you are still awake, you need to scroll up to the beginning and read this posting again. Repeat until you fall asleep or until you reach that point in time when you have to stop trying to fall sleep. Also read the Insomnia Usage Policy in my first posting.

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