There’s a better-than-even chance that you’re using Microsoft Outlook for e-mail. And if you’re like me, you’re not too happy about it. But there’s a free plug-in available today that brings some much needed relief from some of what ails the world’s most popular e-mail client. I tried it today and it’s great.
The New York Times reported today that a company called Xobni (pronounced ZOB-nee) had begun beta-testing a like-named plug-in that was supposed to solve one of the main problems I’ve been complaining about for years: slow performance.
I downloaded and installed the plug-in within a few minutes. A restart of Outlook was required, after which a colorful new pane appeared at the right of my inbox. A message proclaimed that it was indexing my mail. After about 15 minutes, it was done. A search box at the top of the pane reacts instantly as you type, much like Firefox searches a Web page. Search terms are highlighted in yellow below, first in a list of contact names, and below that in context of the e-mail.
That kind of quick searching alone would be improvement enough; I get a lot of e-mail (and delete very little). But there’s so much more. When an e-mail message is selected, the Xobni pane displays information about the sender, including subjects of recent e-mail threads, called “conversations,” a list of files you’ve exchanged with the person, and a list of people the sender frequently exchanges e-mail with, referred to as their “network.”
Clicking on a conversation exposes an adjustable level of detail about the thread—a slider lets you expand or contract the thread preview window. Clicking on a network member brings you to that person’s contact into, network, conversations with you and files exchanged.
If you already use LinkedIn’s Outlook Toolbar, which continues to amaze me with its Grab feature, you might also like Xobni’s “Schedule Time With…” feature. Click on it when a contact is displayed and Xobni checks your calendar for the next three days and composes an e-mail to the person with opening salutation, free times for today, tomorrow and the next day and closes with not just your signature, but your most common closing salutation, which for me is “Best, Eddie.” I nearly fell off my chair.
When I heard how he named his company, I just knew I was going to like Xobni. It’s “inbox” spelled backwards. Soon after my day-job employer switched to Outlook/Exchange a couple of years ago started referring to Outlook as “Lookout.” I think it was meant to be.
I could go on about how great it is, this product that Bill Gates reportedly called “the next generation in social networking.” But it’d probably be easier to refer you to this brief screencast showing how Xobni works. If you like the speed and utility of Google Desktop and the cleverness of LinkedIn’s Outlook Toolbar, you’ll want to download Xobni And by the way, Xobni creator Adam Smith was 12 years old when Outlook was first released, the Times reported. Now he’s 23.