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My brother is in the field with Doctors Without Borders. I'm posting this question on his behalf.

We use outlook express (on a pc running windows XP) and a 9600 baud dial up satellite phone modem to get our email direct from the server in Paris. As this is a very expensive way to communicate (our satellite bill is > $50K a year, no joke), it seems like trying to streamline is a good idea.

Here's the question- when we connect, the sequence goes:

  1. Send outbox mails. This goes pretty quickly, probably 10-15 seconds for each email, up to maybe a couple minutes for an email of 150k or so). The status bar moves pretty quickly, according to the emails sent.

  2. The system then says "Checking for new messages on (our account name), and "Receiving list of messages from server". This takes a long time. Like 10-15 minutes. The status bar crawls along.

  3. Then it receives the messages. "Receiving messages from server". Again, each message takes 10-15 seconds, and this part moves along reasonably fast.

I'm curious as to what is going on in the second part. It takes forever, and doesn't seem to be part of the sending or receiving messages themselves. Is there a way to speed up the process by changing a preference with communicating with the server or something?

Does anyone have any advice for him speeding up what Outlooks Express is doing? Obviously his software is ancient and adding more software is not realistic based on the connection speed.


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I'd say look for a new satellite provider. That price for that performance seems ridiculous. I don't care where your brother is. I know a guy that used a civilian satellite internet provider to build "Hajjinets" in the middle of the Sunni Triangle in Iraq during the worst of the latest US-Iraqi war. He got better speeds than that. =/ – Wesley Jul 8 '12 at 0:28
The latency of the connection is probably sky high. Which poses no problem for pure continuous data , but which will play havoc with anything interactive. I am not sure what outlook express is doing, but it is worth testing several mail clients locally on a network with simulated similar delays. Especially if this is set-up is used by multiple people in the field. – Hennes Jul 8 '12 at 1:00
Yes, latency is likely an issue. John, have your brother ping something in Paris to see what the latency is. Still, 9600baud and 50k a year - that's absurd. Satellite latency shouldn't be over one second for a halfway decent service. – Wesley Jul 8 '12 at 1:31
Is it using POP3 or IMAP? – mgorven Jul 8 '12 at 3:18
I'd say ditch Outlook Express in favour of Cygwin and Mutt. – Tom O'Connor Jul 8 '12 at 17:52

I would guess the problem is that the mail is being retrieved via pop3 but not being deleted from the server once it's downloaded. Every time outlook express connects, it has to download the index of the mailbox before it can know what messages should be downloaded. If old messages are never deleted, then the index will only grow.

Outlook express has an option to delete messages older than x days, or delete all downloaded messages. Deleting all of them is best for efficiency, but the risk of losing messages is higher. In either case, if the computer dies, the messages are completely lost, unless the ISP has some sort of backup.

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If it's being downloaded via POP3, see if you can switch it to IMAP. – Bigbio2002 Jul 8 '12 at 5:30
Outlook express's implementation of imap is not sophisticated enough to make it an improvement over pop3 for this use case. It will have the same performance characteristics. – longneck Jul 8 '12 at 12:19

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