With presence on about 500 million computer systems, Microsoft Outlook is by far the most widely used email application in the world. It is more so entrenched in the business community, where it is not only used for email exchange, but also as a personal organizer able to handle just about everything from your email to your calendar and easily transfer tasks, contacts, and more. In a nutshell, Microsoft Outlook enjoys an enormous popularity.

However, being the most popular email application does not necessarily mean it is perfect. In fact, is far from it. One of the glaring omissions is the feature to extract and export emails from Outlook data store to document formats such as Adobe PDF, even Microsoft own proprietary XPS and Word document formats.

PDF or Portable Document Format is an industry standard for document exchange and archiving. In other term, it is an electronic replacement for paper. Converting emails to PDF can serve many purposes. First, PDF format preserves the source file information such as layout, styles and format of the email. Second, PDF exists in compressed form that reduces the size of the file significantly, making it simple to distribute by e-mail or post on a website. This also makes it an ideal to archive and backup emails so that you have a record of your information in a format that can be easily opened in the future. Additionally, because of archiving, mailbox size can be maintained at reduced level. Third, it is very easy to share with other users because of its size and portability. Fourth, PDF files are viewable and printable on virtually any platform, including Windows, Mac OS, UNIX, Linux and mobile platforms such as iPhone, iPad, Android etc.

Because of the popularity of PDF, Microsoft started supporting it in Office 2007 via a special ‘Save as PDF and XPS’ add-in, available as a separate download. With SP2, PDF and XPS support is natively inbuilt into the Office suite. So, now you can easily save your Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents to PDF natively. Unfortunately, Microsoft chooses to leave support for PDF/XPS out of its Outlook application. Whether that was deliberate or limitation in PDF licensing term, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is the devoid of PDF and XPS export feature in Outlook is a big limitation.  So, as usual, most of us has to either rely on Adobe Acrobat Outlook plug-in (which means, you will have to buy it and yes, it costs a lot too, $299 for a personal license for the standard edition!) or, make use of a PDF printer driver, to generate PDF document that is not searchable and contents that is not easy to recover or exported to another format. Some even resort to copy-paste of the content of the web page to Microsoft Word and convert to PDF/XPS document, albeit in a crude fashion.

For these reasons, a year back, in an attempt to bridge the gap, I wrote a VBA, that puts a button in the mail inspector window in Outlook, clicking which would feed the HTML version of the email item to Microsoft Word application through command line execution, and convert it into a PDF document. What started as a simple script to meet my own requirement for document generation from emails, has now evolved into a full-fledged commercial add-in application for Microsoft Outlook. It really is a lot nicer. It has a lot of conveniences that make it easy to use, encapsulating all the complex and dirty processes within the familiar Outlook toolbar and ribbon user interface. But in the end it still does that same core function that got it started – it generates PDF, XPS, word documents and web archived pages from any items in Outlook (be it emails, appointments or tasks), with a single click or on its own through automation. These are all achieved, by leveraging your existing investment in Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 suite. There is no requirement to install a PDF printer driver or a third party library or Adobe Acrobat application.

In its new avatar, Document Exporter is a lot more than just being a PDF converter.  Once you convert an email to PDF or other document format, generated PDF files of the email and attachments can be named with the metadata information contained in the email item itself, such as date, sender, receiver, subject, etc. This way you don’t even need to input and key in the name of the document.

Document Exporter can also convert the underlying attachments of the email to PDF.  You have the choice to output each individual attachment to a separate PDF file, or merge all attachments into a single PDF file where each attachment is joined to one another, or merge the email along with the attachments to a single PDF file such that, each attachment is joined and appended to the email PDF. However, the support for converting attachment to PDF depends on the file format of the attachment. Most of the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Web or simply plain text file formats are supported.  Here is a list of different  file formats supported for converting to PDF:  docx, docm, doc, dot, dotx, dot, htm, html, mht, mhtl, rtf, txt, odt, wpd, wps, xl, xlsx, xlsm, xlsb, xlam, xltx, xltm, xls, xlt, xla, xlm, xlw, odc, uxdc, ods, csv, prn, pptx, ppt, pptm, ppsx, pps, ppsm, potx, pot, potm, odp, bmp, gif, png, jpg, jpeg, tif, tiff, pcx, psd

One unique feature of Document Exporter that sets it apart from other PDF converter tool for Outlook is in its support to export emails to other popular document formats such as Microsoft own, XPS (*.xps) and Word Documents (*.docx, *.doc), Rich Text (*.rtf), Open Document (*.odt) and Web archive (*.mht). There are five ways of generating PDF and other document formats from Outlook items:

  1. Convert individual Outlook item
  2. Batch convert multiple Outlook items
  3. Append Outlook items to an existing PDF file
  4. Merge multiple Outlook items into one file
  5. Automatically convert new incoming emails

One recent feature addition is the real-time generation of PDF or other document formats from incoming emails. This works by setting Document Exporter add-in to monitor an Outlook folder or mailbox, for new emails. So, when a new incoming email hits the folder or mailbox, Document Exporter automatically processes it to generate PDF or other documents, without any intervention from the user. Now, you can easily maintain a parallel copy or backup of your current Outlook items.

You can also opt to maintain a single PDF file for an Outlook folder or mailbox, such that every new Outlook item received or added to the folder or mailbox will be automatically appended over this single PDF file, containing iteration of pages just like an e-book. This entire process will appear seamless to the user, and you will have a PDF file that has the latest update of your Outlook folder or mailbox.

Finally, you have complete control over the PDF document generation through the Output settings panel.  You can customize the default file naming scheme by choosing your own metadata fields, specify the attachments output behavior, choose single or multiple PDF merge options and modify the page setup and layout etc.

The latest release of Document Exporter add-in is version 6 and works with Outlook 2007 and 2010 (32 bit).  I have also composed a 15 minutes video demonstration on its capabilities on Outlook 2010, which is now available on the product website. If you have any opinions, feedback or questions on this product, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at bahrur dot ipham at assistmyteam dot net.

Product Summary:
Name: Document Exporter for Outlook
Website: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/
Download: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/Download.asp
Video Demonstration: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/Videos/

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