Synchronize Categories and Colors

Export, import, and synchronize the master category list of Outlook. See how to use a consistent system on multiple computers, and ensure that all team members will see the same colors.

Last modified: 2015/02/12 | Accessed: 42.381  | #32
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OLKeeper OLKeeper
OLKeeper reliably prevents users from closing their Outlook window and thus possibly missing reminders or e-mails.

Import and Export Categories

There's no direct import function for categories in Outlook. Up to and including Outlook 2003 there's a workaround via the registry, where the Master Category List was stored. You find it in the registry under:

  • Outlook 2000: HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftOffice9.0OutlookCategories
  • Outlook 2002: HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftOffice10.0OutlookCategories
  • Outlook 2003: HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftOffice11.0OutlookCategories

Please note, that registry path doesn't exist until you create the first category of your own!

The Windows Registry Editor allows exporting and importing of single hives via files with the extension *.reg. So, with that it's also possible to export and import the Master Category List.

Note, when importing via the Registry Editor then all of the existing categories get overwritten. So, your existing Master Category List gets completely replaced by the new one.

Depending on where the *.reg file comes from this method might also be risky: Theoretically, every registry hive can get overwritten, which even could destroy the Windows or Office installation.

Via the registry there's another little snag: Because the path is different for all Outlook versions, you cannot import a Master Category List e.g. in Outlook 2003 that was exported with Outlook XP without first manually editing the *.reg file.

... And additionally there's a big snag: The categories' registry format completely changed between Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2002 (XP). Between Outlook 2000 and XP/2003 the *.reg files aren't compatible at all.

With Outlook 2007 there's again a fundamental change. Now the Master Category List is stored within the data file (*.pst) itself. Without a third-party tool importing and exporting aren't possible anymore. On the other hand, you don't have to backup the list separately like you had to do in earlier versions. Now that happens automatically when you backup the *.pst file. With a tool like OutlookSpy you can find the category list formatted as XML: Search in the default calendar within the hidden messages for IPM.Configuration.CategoryList and in that for the binary field 0x7C080102.

tip With Category Manager you can easily export categories and import them from registry, text and Excel files - even between different Outlook versions. And you can decide yourself whether the new categories shall replace the existing ones or be added to them.
Reporter Reporter
VBOffice Reporter is an easy to use tool for data analysis and reporting in Outlook. A single click, for instance, allows you to see the number of hours planned for meetings the next month.

Synchronize Categories

With the method described in the previous chapter, you can manually put a category list at your users' disposal. The manual method is ok and easy to use to deploy your categories once e.g. between a desktop and laptop. But in a larger network, or if you have to synchronize frequently, an automatic method will be more effective.

Up to and including Outlook 2003, you can manually export the categories *.reg file as described and put the file via a logon-script at your users' disposal. The disadvantages of this method are:

  • You still have to manually export and deploy the file.
  • The method works only up to and including Outlook 2003; but you can only use an exported reg file with the same version of Outlook that exported the reg file. For example, reg files exported from Outlook 2003 will only work when imported into Outlook 2003.
  • This approach overwrites each users' Master Category List, i.e. categories of their own will be lost. You have no control over this.
  • The update takes place only when the user logs on to the computer.

In an Exchange Server environment with Outlook 2007 clients you could also use a GPO to deploy the categories. The disadvantages of this method are:

  • This approach adds the central categories to each users' Master Category List. You have no control over this. You cannot prevent that users use their own categories beside the central ones.
  • The update takes place only once when Outlook starts.
  • Colors won't be synchronized.
tip Category Manager Enterprise synchronizes the Master Category List automatically with a central list. Every Outlook version from 2000 on is supported - even in mixed environments. The synchronization can take place when Outlook starts and/or at any interval; and you decide yourself if the user may keep the categories of their own or if they should be deleted. For Outlook 2007 category colors will also be synchronized.
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