When Outlook won’t go away

Sometimes Outlook appears to shut down but is still running, we explain why and what to do about it.

Jenny N writes:


” I have Outlook 2007 with multiple profiles (one personal, one for business).  Sometimes I shut-down Outlook (from File | Exit) and it appears to close.  But when I try to start Outlook again, to switch to another profile, it goes starts immediately with no profile selection option.   This is happening a lot with Outlook 2007 and Vista, what’s going on? “

There’s various possibilities here, let’s first cover some options easily overlooked.



  1. Make sure Outlook isn’t set to start in the same profile each time.  Go to Control Panel | Mail | Show Profiles – make sure that ‘Prompt for a profile to be used’ is selected.

  2. Do you have any programs that open Outlook in the background?  The most likely candidate for this is Microsoft’s ActiveSync (which syncs with Pocket PC’s and other Windows Mobile devices).  Even if you close Outlook, ActiveSync will keep Outlook running in the background.

When you choose File | Exit in Outlook the screen windows will disappear quickly which gives the appearance that Outlook is done.  That’s for show, Outlook does a lot more in the background before it really shuts down.   If you click on the Outlook icon to start Outlook again, you may really just reviving it from the close-down process.   So make sure you leave a decent interval between Outlook removing itself from the screen and try to start it again.  A minute should be more than enough.

Despite all that we’ve had the same trouble as Jenny, Outlook should be fully closed but remains persistently open in the background for minutes or even hours.  If you go to the Task Manager | Processes you can see OUTLOOK.EXE running and taking up a lot of memory for no obvious reason.

You need to force Outlook to shut-down.  The best way to do that is to restart your computer, either a full restart or log-off.

The fast alternative is to go to Task Manager | Processes, click on OUTLOOK.EXE and click on ‘End Process’ – after a warning dialog this will shut down Outlook immediately.   However this method could result in data corruption and isn’t recommended.  At best,when you next start Outlook with the profile running when you ended the process, you’ll have to wait while Outlook checks the PST/OST data file for problems.

Quirky as Outlook might seem to be, there’s probably some good but hidden reason for the program not shutting down.  Most likely there is a program trying to access Outlook data and keeping the program running (most external programs get to Outlook info (contacts, calendar etc) via Outlook instead of accessing the PST/OST data files directly).  For example, look at instant messaging and VOIP programs which connect to your contacts list.

Jenny’s problem does highlight the continuing problem of Outlook profile support, or lack of it.  Unlike Outlook Express, Outlook doesn’t give you the option to switch between profiles from a menu option within the program.