PST and OST: How Are They Different? And Other FAQs
Takeaway: Microsoft Outlook stores email as PSTs and OSTs. Creating multiple PSTs and converting OSTs to PSTs is easy thanks to Outlook. But when it comes to eDiscovery, you’ll need dedicated eDiscovery software.
Want to know more about them? Here are 6 common questions answered.
Pretty much every business uses PSTs or has some lying around. But what is a PST, and how are they used?
1. How are PSTs and different OSTs?
Microsoft Outlook stores email, contacts, calendar items, notes, etc. in both PSTs and OSTs, but:
- PSTs (Personal Storage Tables) are only functional when working online, with an active internet connection. With them, you can send, receive, and edit emails in real-time. However, they are stored on your computer, and don’t sync with a central server.
- OSTs (Offline Storage Table) don’t require an internet connection. They’re great for working on the move and don’t have internet access (e.g. when you’re on a flight). They are stored on Microsoft’s central ‘Exchange Server’ though and you’ll need to ‘sync’ them with your computer. They let you read and write emails, but you’re still limited by your internet connection when you want to send and receive them.
2. Is it possible to convert OSTs to PSTs?
Yes! And there are many ways to:
- Export your mailbox as a PST file: You can ‘export’ your whole mailbox with Outlook as a PST file. To do so, choose ‘Import & Export’ under the ‘Files’ tab. Then choose the ‘Outlook Data File (.PST)’ output format, and select where you want the PST to be saved.
- Use the ‘archiving’ option in Outlook: Outlook has an ‘auto archive’ option – your OSTs will automatically be saved as a PST while you work. This option is under File > Options > Advanced > Auto Archive. You can even set how many days you want auto-archiving to be on for, and set where the PST file will be stored.
- Make use of third-party converter software: The previous two methods are free but require a Microsoft Exchange account as well as access to the Exchange Server. It’s possible to still need to convert an OST to a PST without having those by using a third-party converter.
3. Is it possible to open PSTs and OSTs without Microsoft Outlook?
Yes, it’s easy to do so with a free PST/OST viewer. You won’t be able to use the content of the files though, only view it. A good viewer makes it as simple as just dragging-and-dropping the file into the viewer. The file should automatically open, and let you analyze your PSTs directly from your hard drive without needing any information to be uploaded - so your data stays secure.
4. Is using PSTs to store email a good idea?
If you know how to do it right, then yes. It’s important to get the most out of them though, so here are some helpful tips. The PST format was developed back in the ’90s when the internet was a great deal slower than it is today, and connections were harder to come by. The ability to work on emails even without an internet connection made it revolutionary. Since then, high-speed internet connections and low-cost online data storage have become easily available though, so there isn’t as much of a need to store email on computers any more. And even more importantly, the Cloud has been created allowing us to have our email readily accessible across all our devices. All that said, PSTs can still be convenient, and a lot of modern business communication still relies on them. So it’s worth understanding how to work with them.
5. What do I need to know about PSTs for eDiscovery?
Most importantly, you should have dedicated eDiscovery software. The greatest mistake people make is to use Outlook for PST eDiscovery. This is because of an important ‘digital footprint’ that each PST file has known as its metadata - and metadata is critical to eDiscovery. Outlook alters metadata even when you are just using it to view emails, and this can have serious legal ramifications. So it’s important to get eDiscovery software that:
- Preserves metadata, ensuring important information stays unaltered. This information includes things like when a PST was created, who by, and when it was last accessed.
- Keeps your data secure. Good eDiscovery software store your information in the Cloud – which uses bank-grade security.
- Has a powerful search engine that lets you search through the information of multiple PSTs, including both emails and their attachments, simultaneously. Outlook only lets you search through one PST at a time, and doesn’t look through email attachments.
- Lets you ‘tag’ emails. A tag is a ‘digital sticky-note’ that you can attach to emails and files. Being able to tag groups of similar emails allows you to easily come back to them during review.
- Allows you to redact sensitive information. It’s important to be able to black out sensitive text and content in emails to protect privileged information.
- Can produce emails. The production process is central to eDiscovery, and it’s important to have access to multiple formats depending on your requirements (like PDF, TIFF, or native) and to be able to stamp the documents with Bates Stamps, tags, etc.
Being able to work with PSTs is about asking the right questions.
They allow you to store large amounts of information, decide where the data is stored, use the data offline, and all this without needing IT support. The key is to learn how. Here’s an affordable solution!