Q: I have a large number of e-mails I do not currently need but need to be able to access from time to time to rebuild a history of events...

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Q: I have a large number of e-mails I do not currently need but need to be able to access from time to time to rebuild a history of events. Is it possible to archive an Outlook e-mail folder so that the folder can be accessed and an individual e-mail retrieved?

— Don Monaghan

A: Yes, and there are a couple of ways to do this. First, you can set up Outlook to perform automatic archiving. In fact, by default AutoArchive is on when you install Outlook, and it runs every 14 days.

If you go to the File menu and select Archive, you can change how often AutoArchive runs, change the folders that are archived and change where the items are stored.

Alternatively, you can set up archiving manually. I have created subfolders under my Inbox for each month of the year. When I finish with an e-mail but want to keep it around for future reference. I put it in that month’s folder.

When the next month comes around and I start saving to the new folder, I generally delete all e-mails from the previous year. That way I keep a rolling record of the previous year’s e-mails.

The advantage of the first method is that it is automatic, and the stored e-mails don’t add to the overall size of the data file that stores your current Outlook data. The advantage of the second method is that it is more selective, and it’s a quicker process to access the stored e-mails.

Remember, however, you’re still going to want to back up your data to another drive to protect against loss.

Q: You know how an icon automatically shows up in the lower right-hand corner of the Windows taskbar whenever a USB storage device is plugged in? Not only does this icon verify that a USB storage device is plugged in, but it also allows me to safely remove the device when I’m finished (by right-clicking on the icon).

After recently installing Windows XP Service Pack 3, I’ve noticed that the icon no longer appears when I plug in a USB storage device. Is this an intended effect of SP3? Is it safe to remove a USB storage device without having the icon to click on?

— Leoned Gines

A: All versions of Windows XP should display the icon in the service tray when you have a device attached. The key word here is “should.” Whenever you update your operating system, if a device no longer functions as it should, your first step should be to contact the device manufacturer and check whether there is an updated driver for the product.

As for whether it’s risky to simply disconnect a USB storage device without using the safe removal option, I’ll confess I do it frequently and I have yet to encounter any problems. But that’s no guarantee.

The safe-removal utility is designed both to ensure all write operations to the drive have completed before you remove the device and to ensure that all Windows processes are aware the device will no longer be available.

Q: We have four computers and a printer on an Ethernet network at home. We’re in the market for a networked hard drive primarily for backup storage of important files, mostly photos and school-related files.

I’ve been reading reviews of 250 to 500GB networked attached storage (NAS) units. Many of these seem to have problems with drive failures. I understand heat is often a significant factor, yet these units often lack fans.

Would I be better off with a couple of portable USB external drives (maybe one for each system) than a single large network-attached unit? It seems portable drives should be more ruggedly built than a stationary NAS unit.

— Mike Parker

A: Portability is no guarantee of long-term durability. A ruggedized portable drive is designed to withstands shocks, splatters and other hazards. But portable drives don’t as a class have longer life spans than other hard drives.

I have three suggestions: First, buy your drive(s) from a reputable manufacturer, one likely to be around when and if you need to take advantage of the device’s warranty.

Second, check the warranty length.

Third, back up your data in more than one place. It doesn’t matter how durable your backup device is if your house has a flood, fire or other catastrophe. If your data are really important, you’ll want to save copies off-site.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.