Tip o’ the Week #267 – Synchronising Outlook Signatures again


Hot on the heels of last week’s missive about how to snaffle more storage space, once again we turn to OneDrive to solve a problem. First, let’s journey back in time to recall some previous tools.

Once, there was a peer-2-peer (P2P) file sychronisation product called FolderShare which was acquired by Microsoft nearly a decade ago; it allowed files and folders to be replicated amongst multiple machines, essentially for backup or for making sure you had your stuff (music, pictures etc) everywhere you needed it.

FolderShare begat Mesh or Windows Live Mesh, which became Windows Live Sync and eventually all became part of SkyDrive, as the latter became less of a simple place-to-put-stuff-in-the-sky/cloud and more of a storage mechanism with a means to sync and replicate it onto multiple places. Now OneDrive is part of Windows, and as well as giving away oodles of online disk space, it’s the mechanism by which Windows 8 and 10 users can synchronise settings between computers. It’s getting better and more granular all the time, too.

One of the nice features of Live Mesh/Sync was the ability to automatically keep several settings on multiple PCs in sync with each other – like IE favourites, or settings from Office like dictionaries, templates and email signatures. Though it’s now obsolete, this was first covered in ToW #69, back in 2011. Email .sigs used to be a big deal.

Windows manages to do a good job of keeping PC-specific settings in sync between machines, or even just backing up settings from one machine to the cloud using OneDrive – so once you’ve signed in to your shiny new machine with your MSA, then it’s quite amazing how much of your stuff just appears. But one thing that doesn’t is your Outlook email signature. If you want to back up your .sig and also make it/them available on multiple PCs, you need to work a bit harder.

The Dark Art of Symbolic Links

Worry not, however. Through a cunning bit of sleight of hand, it’s possible to fool dusty old Outlook into thinking that its Signatures folder is stored in the usual place, however we all know it can be moved into OneDrive and therefore made available to multiple machines. This is similar to the technique of replicating Desktop which was covered a little while back, except that instead of changing a registry setting to tell Windows where the folder is, we need to create a special kind of folder, which is really just a redirection to somewhere else.

Here’s the method – it’s best to close Outlook while doing this.

  • Find your current Signatures location – try pressing WindowsKey + R then paste into the run box, %appdata%\Microsoft (which opens the special location that many applications will use to store files that clip_image003pertain to how they work).

  • Then look for the Signatures folder – select it, copy it and paste into your OneDrive folder (in Explorer; paste it into the OneDrive\Documents folder, for example).

  • … rename the original Signatures folder to something like Signatures.old

  • clip_image005Now, we need to create a Symbolic Link to make something that looks like a folder at the same location, but points elsewhere – start an elevated command prompt (on Windows 8 or 10, press WindowsKey-X then press A to start an admin command prompt).

  • Now create the symbolic link by entering the following as one line into the command window:
    mklink /d %appdata%\Microsoft\Signatures %userprofile%\OneDrive\Documents\Signatures
    (if you know your OneDrive folder is in a different place, then substitute the 2nd parameter for whatever is appropriate – maybe D:\OneDrive\Documents\Signatures, for example)

  • If you now go back to the %appdata%\microsoft location from the 1st step, you’ll see the Signatures folder clip_image006with a special icon showing that it represents a link rather than a real folder. Open it to check that your signature files – as stored in the OneDrive folder from earlier – are showing up in there as expected. Feel free to close the command window.

  • Now, on each other PC you want to synchronise with, go back to the first instruction and repeat, except that you don’t need to do the “copy to OneDrive bit” since your Signatures folder is already there – in other words, you create the Symbolic Link to the local replica of the OneDrive folder, and Outlook will think that the data is in its own appdata location.

  • Don’t worry if you get to the 2nd step on a destination PC and realise the Signatures folder doesn’t exist – it’s only created when you first set up a .sig

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