Identity crisis: Why won’t Outlook for Mac open its own messages!?

Outlook cannot open the file because it is not associated with the default identity

Oh, that dreaded “Outlook cannot open the file because it is not associated with the default identity” message! We see this when Spotlight finds an Outlook mail message and try to open it. It’s an Outlook message! Why won’t Outlook open its own messages!?

This problem is prevalent in the Microsoft Answers Outlook for Mac forum. After seeing it one more time this weekend I decided to add an entire page on the subject in our Outlook section. For help with resolving this issue read Outlook cannot open the file because it is not associated with the default identity.

As part of the page I included an AppleScript for taking those files that Outlook won’t open and making them open anyway. Read on for a quick overview of the problem and how to use the script.

Identity crisis

An identity is nothing more than a folder containing Outlook preferences, account settings, mail messages, contacts, calendar events—all the stuff that makes up the content of what we see while working in Outlook. Let’s dig into that a little bit further.

Your identity is located in your home folder here (where ” ~ ” denotes your home folder):

~/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2011 Identities/

Most folks who look in that Office 2011 Identities folder will see just one more folder called “Main Identity”. That’s Outlook’s default name for the identity it created when they launched Outlook for the first time and started using it. Additional folders may have a name like “Main Identity [Backed up 2011-08-15 08.59.00]“. This is a copy of an identity that was created when running the Microsoft Database Utility application to repair an identity that was having problems.

Each folder inside the Office 2011 Identities folder and its contents comprises a single identity but Outlook uses only one identity at a time. It’s not designed to look at anything other than the one set as the current default identity. The rest are just sitting inert mostly because the Outlook user doesn’t know they exist or is afraid of losing old information.

Scavenger hunt

The messages that Spotlight finds but Outlook won’t open are from those inert identities. My Scavenge Outlook Messages 1.0 AppleScript can help open these messages so long as they are still part of their old identity folder structure.

First, download the script and unzip the file. Copy the Scavenge Outlook to a convenient location such as the Desktop or add it to your Dock.

When Spotlight displays a message that Outlook won’t open then you’re ready for the script:

  1. Hold the Option and Command keys down and click the message in the Spotlight menu to reveal the message in the Finder.
    Option + Command + Click

    The file name will look similar to “x00_27612.olk14Message”. This is not the actual mail message but rather a pointer to the mail message source file.

  2. Drag the found file onto the Scavenge Outlook script. If the found file is still within its old identity folder then the script will locate its corresponding message source file and open it in Outlook. The script will also convert multiple .olk14Message files dropped onto it.
    Message in Outlook

For a detailed view of how the script works read Salvage a single message on the Outlook cannot open the file because it is not associated with the default identity page.

The Scavenge Outlook script will save salvaged messages to a folder named “Scavenged Outlook Messages” on the Desktop. To copy these messages back to Outlook (into the current identity) just drag them into a folder in the Outlook window.

Scavenge Outlook is free for anyone to use.

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11 comments to Identity crisis: Why won’t Outlook for Mac open its own messages!?

  • Andy Buteux

    this is very clear, can it be adjusted to do the same for events?

    • Hmm… I’ve personally never seen Spotlight return events from a search. I’ll have to see how events are stored and test. I would imagine this should work but won’t know until I get some things set up for experimentation.

  • Joy Cohn

    I have a Main Identity and a Backed Up Identity. When I’m searching and click on one of those messages, I usually notice that next to it is a duplicate which translates to the original in the Main Identity.

    The only time I’d find it only in the Backup, I suspect, is after I’ve deleted the version in the Main Identity.

    To truly solve the problem, delete the backup identities or save them to a different drive.

  • Tony

    This is GREAT! — unfortunately i have a ton of emails which results in the “some of the selected files are not .olk14Message files or they have been separated from their identity. Is there ANY way to restore these as well?

    • If the messages are found in another Identity, you need to “Switch Identity” to view. However, for some users it’s in an Identity that fails to open. You can view the message with the QuickLook plugin found here: (note Outlook has to be quit for this plugin to work)

      You can locate the file in the non working Identity and manually move it to a new Identity. Rebuild that Identity then open to view. You can then drag to your current working Identity. I’m suggesting the new Identity rather than your current Identity since it involves a rebuild.

      If the message is stored outside of an Identity Data Records folder, simply drag the .eml file to the Outlook icon in the Dock to open.

      • Tony

        Thanks, I only have one identity, I’ve been frustrated with the rebuilding process etc that I decided awhile back to start fresh. Thus I cannot switch to the original identity of the email. How does the QuickLook plugin work in conjunction with Scavenger hunt? Looking to solve for this error “some of the selected files are not .olk14Message files or they have been separated from their identity”

  • Brian Cartwright

    This is absolutely amazing. I have re-established my identity so many times in Outlook 2011 alone (let alone earlier versions of Outlook) that these unopenable emails are EVERYWHERE when I spotlight search. Until I found this script, I had been experiencing data amnesia because it seemed all of my valuable info was stored in unopenable emails. All of the forums that keep telling people to re-establish the identity are sorely misguided – that only compounds the issue and doubles, triples, quadruples the data usage, in my experience. THANK YOU SO MUCH for the script- I expect to use it several times a day!s

  • ckn

    thanks for the great app!

  • rilk

    i found I could simply copy the file to the existing identity and double click to open.

  • Jonathan

    I would be grateful for a more concrete explanation of your post…”copy the file to the existing identity”. I appreciate your help very much.

  • rosie

    Thank you you are a life saver:)