How to Archive E-mails with Adobe Acrobat

By Simon Hurst

As part of the installation of Adobe Acrobat, Acrobat toolbars and menu items are added to the main Microsoft Office programs, including Microsoft Outlook. For Word, PowerPoint and Excel these additional options allow the current "document" to be converted into a PDF file and can then go on to initiate distribution by e-mail or for review.

The Acrobat additions to Outlook are somewhat different. They are still concerned with converting to PDF, but go beyond converting individual e-mails and help convert groups of selected e-mails, or whole folders, into a PDF file. It is also possible to update a PDF created in this way with recent e-mails by adding to an existing file, rather than just creating a new one.

Acrobat's integration with Outlook is an area that has been significantly improved in the latest version of Acrobat – version 8.0. As well as converting e-mails to the new "PDF package" format which can contain a combination of PDF and non-PDF files, Acrobat 8 adds an Automatic Archival feature that can be set up to automatically add new e-mails to a chosen PDF package or packages. While this article will focus on Microsoft Outlook, the same Acrobat facilities are available for Lotus Notes users.

Importance of E-mails to Paperless Office System
Businesses are increasingly moving towards providing access to electronic versions of stored documents. Saving outgoing documents in electronic form, and scanning incoming paper-based documents goes some way to achieving the aim of the paperless office but as more and more vital information is exchanged via e-mail, failing to incorporate e-mails into the electronic document store leaves a big gap. Many dedicated document management systems do include the capability to include e-mails, but for organizations that don't have such a system, a simple and reliable method of retaining and retrieving e-mails can be a great advantage. Saving groups of e-mails as PDF files could be a way of achieving this.

Why PDF?
Leaving e-mails within Outlook's own storage system can be problematic. In all but the smallest organizations it can strain network storage limits and make the entire e-mail system less efficient and less easy to manage. Trying to find individual e-mails or selections of e-mails can often be difficult and time-consuming. It is also difficult to prove the integrity of an e-mail when, in its native format, it can easily be edited without leaving any sort of audit trail. It can also be difficult to incorporate Outlook storage folders in routine backup procedures, or to provide universal access – particularly if people store them on their own hard drives.

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By converting e-mail messages to PDFs, organizations gain increased control over the integrity of e-mails with the ability to apply Acrobat security settings to the converted files. As a PDF file, the full range of Acrobat and Adobe Reader commenting and review tools can be made available, enabling users to add comments and annotations to e-mail messages. Converting e-mails to PDF format also allows an e-mail exchange to be incorporated as an integral part of a single PDF file that also contains converted Word, Excel and scanned incoming documents. This complete electronic record could then be shared and distributed as required.

In addition to using the PDF format to integrate normal e-mail messages into a document management system, the technique would also work very well in making the information in e-mailed newsletters or similar resources generally and easily available. For example, an Outlook rule could be set up to move all AccountingWEB IT Zone newswires to a separate folder. The contents of this folder could then be converted into a PDF file that would be available for anyone who needed it read and comment upon it. Additional newswires could be added periodically. In the case of Acrobat 8.0, the process of keeping the PDF file up to date could be completely automated, as we shall see later.

How to Convert E-mails to PDF Format
First of all, we'll look at the general techniques of converting messages to PDF files that are applicable both to Acrobat versions 7 and 8, then we'll go on to look at the enhancements that version 8 provides in this area.

The Acrobat toolbar and menu in Outlook provide the ability to convert either selected messages, or selected folders to a new PDF file or to add them to an existing PDF file. The Change conversion settings options cover, among other things, whether attachments should be included in the resulting file, and the PDF security settings to be applied. Once the conversion settings have been set, you simply select the e-mails or whole folders that you wish to convert, and then choose the appropriate menu or toolbar button. Here we have used Outlook's Look for option to find a group of e-mails, and then selected them all. We have then chosen the Convert to Adobe PDF-Selected Messages option.

We will be prompted for a file name, and then a PDF file of that name will be created containing our messages. The contents of the resulting PDF file can be arranged by attributes such as Date, Sender or Subject. You can also use the Edit-Search Option within Acrobat or Adobe Reader to find particular words or phrases. If we receive or send further e-mails that belong in this PDF file, we can select them and then use the Convert and Append to Existing Adobe PDF option to add them.

If we chose to include attachments in our PDF then they will also be available. Because of the privacy options in Outlook, linked graphics will not be included unless you chose to download them in Outlook prior to converting the message. However, links to such graphics, and other hyperlinks will be "live" in the PDF file.

Acrobat 8.0 Enhancements
As mentioned above, the 8.0 versions of Acrobat considerably enhance the Acrobat features available from Outlook. Firstly, the output PDF file can now be set to the new PDF Package format – this enables the inclusion of PDF and non-PDF content in a single file. A PDF Package includes a navigation bar and a "list" of all the components. Right-clicking in this list allows you to choose which attributes of the files within the package you wish to view and sort by. This extends the range of options by which you can sort your emails from date, sender and subject to also include name, original folder location, size, attachments and date modified.

Another feature of an Acrobat 8.0 PDF that can be incorporated into a file created from e-mail messages is the built in index. Whilst Acrobat and Adobe Reader's built-in search tool is pretty rapid anyway, if you choose the Conversion Setting option "Embed index for faster search", searches within your PDF become almost instant. Here we have searched our e-mail package for the word '-"office". As you can see, the Search window displays a hierarchical view of the components of the package, and the references to "office" within each component. Clicking on any of the entries will display that part of the package.

Perhaps the most useful of the Acrobat 8 e-mail conversion enhancements is the ability to automate the entire conversion process. The Outlook Adobe PDF menu includes a Set up Automatic Archival option.

We can set up a schedule for when the automatic archive will run and choose whether or not to maintain a log of archive events. In addition we can choose to embed an index for faster search as previously described.

To include particular folders in the Automatic Archival list, just click on the Add button. This will display a list of the Outlook message folders with the ability to tick as many as required to select them for archival. You can then set up a new file to be created when the archival is first run, or choose an existing file to which archived items will be added. If you need to archive different folders to different files, you can just add further archival folder/file combinations.